Football in the pig pen

PUBLISHED: 05:42 30 January 2003 | UPDATED: 16:13 24 February 2010

IT'S a football match with rasher tackling than you've ever seen before, all the action is in the pen area and it might even be broadcast on StyTelevision.

IT'S a football match with rasher tackling than you've ever seen before, all the action is in the pen area and it might even be broadcast on StyTelevision.

Pigs could get the chance to polish their soccer skills under new animal welfare regulations that require toys put in their sties to keep them amused.

The Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is advising farmers to supply the swines with "manipulable materials" such as footballs or basketballs to keep them happy – and to stop them chewing each other. Official instructions are to give pigs "environmental enrichment".

Those who fail to follow the new European regulations, which come into force on Friday, could be fined up to £2,500.

But farmers in East Anglia yesterdaywelcomed the football theory and began preparing to turn their pig pens into soccer pitches fit for the likes of West Ham FC.

"Everybody knows pigs get bored – they are very social animals," said Jonathan Bradley, a pig farmer from Battisford, near Stowmarket.

"We have been giving them things to play with for years. They will play with each other and they like playing with straw. But they get bored after a while.

"Playing football is a nice distraction. They love it. They enjoy nosing a ball about and, given the perils of Ipswich Town, they could do very well. Perhaps Joe Royle will be in touch."

He added: "It's funny but there is a serious side to it. We've had to improve welfare for years like this after stopping using the stall and tether – but it's still used in Europe.

"We haven't been any better off since then because supermarkets have not backed us enough. There's only guarded optimism about these regulations because we don't know how the rest of Europe will adapt. We need it to be a level playing field."

Ian Campbell, regional manager of the National Pig Association, said: "This is not a new philosophy at all and enriching the pigs' environment is already subject to inspections as part of the farm assurance standard. It's not an unreasonable thing to ask."

The regulations are based on veterinary advice which recommends putting objects such as footballs in stalls to calm horses.

"For many years now vets have been suggesting that you put a football into the stall with a horse if it is restless," said a spokesman for Defra.

"Basically, the same is true with pigs. If you put in a football or you dangle a chain they could nose it around and play with it, it is helpful."

He said the regulations required all pigs to have access to a "sufficient quantity of manipulable materials".

"While straw and hay would do, obviously the use of a football or a chain would also do," he added.

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