Boredom among pigs in overcrowded piggeries quickly leads to tail biting, fights and injuries. A toy for pigs, designed by Beatrijs Voorneman, may offer some distraction. “The pigs destroy everything.”
Originally, Beatrijs Voorneman (MSc) wanted to design children’s toys. Her thesis supervisor, Dr Pieter Desmet (Industrial Design Engineering), had another proposal. The Lifestock Research Centre at Wageningen University was looking for a distraction for pigs in the farming industry. “I’m not going to design for pigs,” was Voorneman’s initial reaction, regarding the offer as something of an insult. But on second thought, the idea didn’t’ seem so absurd. Piglets and children might be more alike than previously assumed. The design process would require her to delve into the foreign, and normally closed, world of the intensive farming industry in order to study the pigs’ behaviour. Voorneman could develop empathy for the animals, just as she would’ve done with children. In short, she rather courageously accepted the challenge.
“I vividly remember the sound of the pig pens - and the smell!” Voorneman exclaims, some six months later. She joined a veterinarian on his monthly visitations to piggeries in Brabant. She noticed that most of the farmers were interested in the pigs’ growth, health and reproduction, but that the natural behaviour of the animals was generally beyond their scope of interest. The only distraction on offer in the pens was the mandatory hanging chain, whose spell over the pigs had long since vanished. At a petting zoo (called ‘Pig’s Paradise’), Voorneman watched the animals play and enjoy life. She observed their characteristics as curious and opportunistic, but also that they easily became bored. She identified rooting as the most typical behaviour, in which the pigs explore and plow the soil and their surroundings with their hypersensitive snouts.
Consequently, Voorneman’s design - a pile of differently shaped layers of various edible materials - was made for rooting pleasure. Playfully named the Sproot, it also makes sounds when a pile is dropped. And the pigs like that, too. Eventually the layers will be eaten and destroyed, as is everything else in the pig pen, but if it lasts for at least three months then that’s sufficient, because the pigs will have ‘moved on’ to something else by then.
Beatrijs Voorneman, ‘Improving the welfare of pigs’, January 2011, supervisors Dr Pieter Desmet and Dr Marieke Sonneveld.