Outdoor pig operations are an alternative to intensive systems of raising pigs; however for the majority of outdoor pork producers, issues of biosecurity and predation control require significant management and (or) capital investment. Identifying and quantifying predation risk in outdoor pork operations has
[...] Read more.
Outdoor pig operations are an alternative to intensive systems of raising pigs; however for the majority of outdoor pork producers, issues of biosecurity and predation control require significant management and (or) capital investment. Identifying and quantifying predation risk in outdoor pork operations has rarely been done, but such data would be informative for these producers as part of their financial and logistical planning. We quantified potential impact of fox predation on piglets bred on an outdoor pork operation in south-western Australia. We used remote sensor cameras at select sites across the farm as well as above farrowing huts to record interactions between predators and pigs (sows and piglets). We also identified animal losses from breeding records, calculating weaning rate as a proportion of piglets born. Although only few piglets were recorded lost to fox predation (recorded by piggery staff as carcasses that are “chewed”), it is likely that foxes were contributing substantially to the 20% of piglets that were reported “missing”. Both sets of cameras recorded a high incidence of fox activity; foxes appeared on camera soon after staff left for the day, were observed tracking and taking live piglets (despite the presence of sows), and removed dead carcasses from in front of the cameras. Newly born and younger piglets appeared to be the most vulnerable, especially when they are born out in the paddock, but older piglets were also lost. A significant ( p
= 0.001) effect of individual sow identification on the weaning rate, but no effect of sow age (parity), suggests that individual sow behavior towards predators influences predation risk for litters. We tracked the movement of piglet carcasses by foxes, and confirmed that foxes make use of patches of native vegetation for cover, although there was no effect of paddock, distance to vegetation, or position on the farm on weaning rate. Trials with non-toxic baits reveal high levels of non-target bait interference. Other management options are recommended, including removing hay from the paddocks to reduce the risks of sows farrowing in open paddocks, and covering or predator-proof fencing the pig carcass pit. Results of this study will have increasing relevance for the expanding outdoor/free-range pork industry, contributing to best practice guidelines for predator control.