Beating aggression makes bacon better


SCOTS scientists have worked out the secret of an even more delicious bacon butty – stop pigs fighting.

Their research shows that reducing aggression in herds of pigs results in better-tasting pork.

When pigs are mixed into groups over their lifetime, a hierarchy forms, resulting in fighting amongst the animals, according to experts Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC).

Babe the pig

The stress and physical damage that results from fighting affects the quality of the meat, say the team based at Roslin, Midlothian.

A new £600,000 study will now try to find out how infighting among pigs can be reduced – resulting in a even more heavenly-tasting morning snack.

One approach the team will take is to see if it is possible genetically to remove aggressive tendencies among pigs.

Scotland’s pig farmers currently produce 58,000 tonnes of pig meat annually worth £150m to the economy.

SRUC senior researcher, Dr Simon Turner, who is leading the study, said: “Reducing the level of aggression obviously takes away the harm caused by it which in turn affects the quality of the meat.

“If they’re fighting less then there’s less stress, less injury and the immune systems are not suppressed, meaning better quality products after it’s been processed.”

Pigs are often held in large groups which are regularly mixed up as they grow however when introduced to a new group, aggression begins to develop a hierarchy.

Experts have discovered that aggression directly affects the growth rate of pigs.

Dr Turner said: “We know aggression affects the animal’s growth rate every time they’re moved into a new group.

“The suppression of 10% lasts for around two weeks after the animal is moved, meaning the overall size is affected as well as the speed of which the animal is ready to be processed.”

The researchers have discovered that one of the problems may be that pigs are not very good at picking fights.

Dr Turner said: “Humans are able to assess both their own fighting abilities, and those of their attacker.

“But there is evidence that some species can do one or the other, but not both.

“We know little about how pigs make decisions on who to fight and when to give up, but this knowledge will probably prove to be essential in designing management systems that are effective in reducing the welfare and economic costs of aggression.”

The expert added that over the years researchers hadn’t had much luck finding methods of reducing aggression, such as tranquilising the animals or mixing them at night.

He added: “We need to help pigs realise when it would be sensible not to engage in aggression, because their opponent is likely to beat them.

“At the end of these projects we hope to be able to offer better advice on how to manage and breed pigs in ways that will help the animals make the best decisions for their own welfare, and so reduce aggression.”

The study is being funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council which will link it up to another one which aims to find out where pigs’ aggression comes from.

Top Scots chef, Mark Greenaway, welcomed the news for Scotland’s larder.

He said: “Of course this is a good plan. Anything that helps makes this country’s fresh produce is a fantastic idea.

“I actually used to have pigs myself actually and although there was only three of them, one was very aggressive.

“He would eat all the food and was much bigger than the rest and that’s why it aggression in alpha males can be a problem for commercial pig farming.”

“So hopefully, by reducing aggression, we will see the quality of pork produced in this country become even better.”