Posted 14 November 2011
“Straw is known to speed up the transit of feed through the digestive system and in turn, reduces the amount of nutrients available to the pig.
Steve with the pigs at Harper Adams
A recent graduate of Harper Adams is investigating how much straw bedding pigs eat and how this affects their digestion, as part of a special research placement.
Stephen Mansbridge is completing a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) research experience placement (REP) on the farm at the University College in Shropshire.
He is working with 45 sows and 96 growing pigs and collecting samples to see how much bedding the pigs are eating.
Steve from Burgess Hill, West Sussex, said: “Straw is known to speed up the transit of feed through the digestive system and in turn, reduces the amount of nutrients available to the pig.
“This means that in theory, you need to provide the pigs with more feed which is expensive and could be used elsewhere.
“Our first treatment acted as a control group where they were kept on concrete, the second used pigs in pens with straw added each day, and the third used pigs in pens with straw added weekly.
“This was devised due to our theory that pigs behave like small children, in that if they are given something new such as a toy or straw, they will play with it and bite it.”
This experiment was then repeated with the growing pigs in a different building with each trial period lasting three weeks, with the first week for the animals to get used to their new feed.
To calculate the amount of straw eaten, faecal samples were collected and then analysed in the teaching laboratories on campus.
Steve, 23, added: “The feed that we gave to the pigs contained a small quantity of feed marker that passes harmlessly through the animals.
“We also used two naturally occurring acid insoluble markers found in the feed and straw and compared the results.
“I’ve really enjoyed the BBSRC placement. Since completing my final year dissertation during my degree in agriculture, I’ve realised that I have a passion for research.
“Thanks to the placement I’ve learnt a lot about pig nutrition, health, behaviour and welfare. Hopefully this research will help us to find a solution that considers both productivity and pig welfare.
“I’m now planning to start a PhD at Harper Adams and continue a similar project with the pigs, we just need to secure the funding.”
To find out about BBSRC placements, visit