Enrichment for farm animals

by Sharon Kutsop

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Typically shelters are caring for dogs and cats, and the staff knows that enrichment for these animals is important as they await homes. But what do you do if you find yourself in a situation with farm animals which you are unfamiliar with and perhaps don’t have a paddock to house them in? Left to their own devices in a stall, farm animals can become very bored and destructive and even self-mutilate over time. It is not uncommon for these animals to be located within city limits, and many city shelters do not have sufficient housing available for them. Here are some ideas for a few of the farm animals commonly found in shelters.

Pigs like to manipulate materials and investigate. Straw is excellent bedding for them, and doubles as a movable material they can forage through. You can even hide some of their food in the straw and let them dig to find it. When appropriate, humane interaction is often beneficial for pigs, but only for pigs used to humans. They can be dangerous animals and you don’t want to push a pig out of its comfort zone or it may panic and harm someone. Toys are a good way to add entertainment to their world. If the space allows, hanging rubber hoses from the ceiling for them to pull on and maneuver around is a good enrichment product. Pigs don’t like dirty toys, so hanging toys rather than placing them where they may be soiled by manure is a good option if it is feasible. If it is not, large balls like basketballs or even ship’s buoys make for very entertaining objects.

Petunia WI236 Happily Ever After Animal Sanctuary

Petunia is a lucky pig who has the life! She is available for adoption by Happily Ever After Animal Sanctuary in Wisconsin.

If you find yourself with cows on your hands,  a well managed pasture may be the best situation you can give them. Realizing that many facilities do not have such an option, you can also add some objects to their stall to help keep them entertained. Cows have a natural urge to groom. It is a social activity for cows and creates bonding as well. If you have a single cow and it is not safe or time is too restricted to brush him yourselves, you can place a stationary brush on the wall for him to scratch up against. They also sell mountable mechanical brushes but they get quite expensive and are a commitment. Some studies suggest that cows also relax around the scents of lavendar or milk. If you would like to throw some toys in with them, cardboard boxes have been shown to be a cheap option for some entertainment. They will investigate the box, paw at it, and eventually crush it. If the animal is calm enough and you have a confident, knowledgeable person on staff, you can have them groom the cow as another cow would. They do like quiet, though, so radios should be kept down low or off altogether. Cows have been shown to avoid the noise of a radio if given a choice.

Casper the cow NM120 Colfax Pet Rescue

Casper is a cow who resides at Colfax Pet Rescue in New Mexico while awaiting his new home.

Horses also benefit greatly from having access to a paddock and regular turn out for exercise. Much like cows, they will also investigate and crush cardboard boxes if given the option. They use their mouths to throw them while also pawing until they are eventually destroyed. Horses are herd animals. If left alone for extended periods they may develop anxiety. If it is at all possible, try to pair them up with a buddy. Horses will typically spend 10 – 12 hours a day grazing, so if they are stalled you can supply them with smaller, more frequent meals of hay. A large ball or plastic bottle hung from the ceiling both make good toys to keep them entertained.

Enrichment is a good idea for any animal staying at your facility for an extended period of time and has restrictions on natural behavior due to the environment.