Lavender oil aromatherapy for Parma ham finishers

01-03 | |
Grower pigs in a facility for Parma ham production, located in Modena province, Italy. Photo: Vincent ter Beek
Grower pigs in a facility for Parma ham production, located in Modena province, Italy. Photo: Vincent ter Beek

Could aromatherapy using lavender essential oil be beneficial for Italy’s heavy pigs? Researchers from Italy set out to get a question to that answer.

They published their findings in September 2023 in the peer-reviewed journal Animals. Most importantly, they wished to know whether lavender essential oil aromatherapy would have an effect on finishing pig welfare, health and carcass, and pork quality.

Lavender essential oil is a calming phytoextract with anxiolytic effects like those obtained with benzodiazepines. Under commercial farm conditions lavender essential oil has the potential to reduce stress and anxiety in pigs, thus enhancing their calmness level, and improving health, welfare, production performance and meat and carcass quality.

Trial with 108 crossbred barrows

In total, the team used 108 crossbred barrows with undocked tails. Pigs were allotted to three experimental groups based on their initial body weight. Pigs were fed using 2 commercial feed formulations:

  • 1st phase up to 110 kg body weight; and

  • 2nd phase from 110 kg body weight to the end of the trial (160 kg).

The groups were defined as follows:

  • A control group lived at the standard experimental conditions.

  • Once-a-day lavender group in the same experimental conditions received a solution with 1% lavender essential oil, vaporised in the room once a day for 10 minutes.

  • The twice-a-day lavender group in the same experimental conditions, received lavender essential oil vaporisation twice a day for 10 minutes.

The researchers scored skin and tail biting lesions before and after the trial. At the slaughter plant, the team measured many characteristics, including carcass weight, carcass yield, the weight of the thigh and loin, the lean meat percentage and back-fat thickness, to name a few.

Impact on body lesions

Lavender essential oil decreased the number of tail and thigh lesions and the total number of lesions on the body in the once-a-day lavender group; however, the number of flank and thigh lesions and the total number of lesions on the body increased in the twice-a-day lavender group.

The authors speculated that the pigs may have been bothered by the nebulisation twice a day, due to the noise of the machine or the aroma spreading in the room, or each administration may have woken up the pigs and provoked a period of activation during and immediately after the nebulisation session.

Impact on carcass and pork quality

Lavender essential oil did not affect carcass quality and blood parameters, but it had minor impacts on fresh pork quality, suggesting that the meat obtained is suitable to produce dry-cured hams. Administration of lavender oil once a day decreased pH values of pork, increased drip loss, and lowered water holding capacity. Low pH and water holding capacity in pork are associated with acute stressful situations occurring during the pre-slaughter phase.

The authors concluded that the administration of lavender essential oil once a day slightly improved animal welfare conditions, while administration twice a day did not show positive effects and led to increased lesions on the body.

Samaneh Azarpajouh Author, veterinarian
More about