STORY: Can music really have an effect on the behavior of pigs?
Belgian pig farmer Piet Paesmans is convinced.
"Jolly dance songs are the biggest hits. They really start wagging their tails, and when it's really dynamic, they even start dancing around and frolicking.’’
Paesmans says he first realized there was a connection between his pigs and music during a particularly lackluster insemination session.
'It was taking too long, the pigs were too quiet. Then my son, who was about 10 years old at the time, started singing a song. Suddenly you saw all the ears go up and the tails start wagging. Then I thought, 'This is too good to pass up, we should try that with the other pigs, too'."
Since then, Paesmans has created playlists for different parts of the day, playing energetic music when he wants the pigs to be active and lullabies at the end of the day.
"Rock music is too strong, they don't like it. It even stresses them out and has a negative effect. So what kind of music you play is really important."
The farmer tipped off a team of researchers, who have now secured about $77,000 of financing from an EU fund and the Belgian region of Flanders to investigate the claims.
Project coordinator Sander Palmans says not much is known about pigs’ reaction to music specifically, but that there is strong existing evidence of sounds generally affecting animals.
"There is without a doubt an effect of specific noises on animals. So it's really possible that music can have
the same effect."
He also says certain sounds could help relieve boredom, which has been linked to stress.
"To reduce the stress or to reduce the boredness (boredom) of the pigs, we also try to enrich the pens with
enrichment material like straw or chains or things like that, and it's also one of the things that's in Piet's
mind, that music can be an enrichment for the animals to reduce their stress levels and to reduce unnatural
behaviour in that case."
The results of the research won’t be released until the end of the year.
Paesmans expects the findings could have a practical impact on the pork industry, as meat quality is affected by stress in animals.
"Stress is bad, it causes aggressive behavior. They also start to perform worse. You might compare it with a top athlete. A top athlete needs to be completely fit physically, but also mentally. And it's just the same for pigs. And when they are slaughtered, it's better, you can see when they've had too much stress. The quality of their meat is different from a pig without stress. It's really important for the quality of the meat."