‘Carnevale’, by Andrea Roe and Cath Keay, shows animals’ responses to unique objects.

Pig Kerplunk and a popcorn-dispensing piñata are among a collection of unique objects created during an event at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) research farm which explored how pigs like to play. A 10-minute film of the pigs interacting with play objects is on display at the Museum of English Rural Life in Reading and the Roslin Institute at the University’s Easter Bush campus.

ECA Lecturer in Art, Andrea Roe, used a Leverhulme Trust artist-in-residence award to work with SRUC animal behavioural specialists, and with veterinary scientist Andrew Gardiner and filmmaker Brian Mather at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies. The project was one part of her work during the residency that revealed pigs’ enthusiasm for investigative play.

When the pigs pull the sticks in different directions the 'Melon Mines' split open
Image: Norrie Russell
When the pigs pull the sticks in different directions the 'Melon Mines' split open

Andrea and Cath chose materials that would invite the pigs to play and that would encourage the animals to smell, tear apart and eat the objects, all of which were designed around a carnival theme.

Over the course of a week, Andrea and Dr Cath Keay (Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow at ECA) created eight sculptural objects that they hoped would appeal to both humans and pigs. They chose materials that would invite the pigs to play and that would encourage the animals to smell, tear apart and eat the objects, all of which were designed around a carnival theme.

Andrea said: “Throughout the process of designing and making the objects we thought about what matters to pigs and carefully crafted objects that they could interact with and which would fit their body proportions.”

'Ruby (24 carrot)' has a hidden pocket that the pigs soon discover with their snouts
Image: Norrie Russell
'Ruby (24 carrot)' has a hidden pocket that the pigs soon discover with their snouts
'Sweep Sensation' offers the pigs holes and textures to explore with their bodies
Image: Norrie Russell
'Sweep Sensation' offers the pigs holes and textures to explore with their bodies

The idea for the project drew on the work of Professor Alistair Lawrence, Chair of Animal Behaviour & Welfare at SRUC and the Roslin Institute. Professors Lawrence’s group is interested in how enrichments encouraging ‘positive’ behaviour, such as play, can contribute to farmed animals’ welfare.

A newspaper publication also called CARNEVALE was produced to explore and communicate ideas on enrichment materials and how these could improve the lives of pigs. It contains contributions from Professor Alistair Lawrence, SRUC scientist Professor Françoise Wemelsfelder and creative writer Tessa Berring, along with photographs taken by Norrie Russell capturing the pigs’ keen curiosity for novel objects.

The project is a continuation of Andrea’s research into farm animal welfare, in particular the importance of play for the expression of natural behaviours.




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