Tail biting is a serious problem that production centres intend to prevent. Not only due to the economic loss it causes, but also because it compromises the well-being and health of the animals.
Tail biting involves destructive chewing of the tails of pigs and is caused when a bleeding bitten tail becomes attractive to other animals in the same group. Lots of factors can trigger this behaviour, internal and external. Tail biting is mostly the result of boredom, insufficient space (high stocking densities) and stimulation, and frustration. It occurs mainly in fattening pigs and when they cannot express their natural behaviour or are not provided with the adequate conditions (factors such as feed intake, poor environment and bad air quality).
Principal consequences of tail-biting:
Lower carcass weight, condemned and trimmed.
There are many strategies to prevent tail biting. One of the most problematic ones is tail docking as it can cause an acute stress response and worsen the health of the animals. This post clarifies the critical points we must pay attention to if we want to prevent tail biting, to guide the decision-making process if we finally adopt tail-docking and specify the effects this measure brings.
Tail docking is considered a non-desirable measure to prevent tail biting among pigs for animal welfare concerns.
» The effectiveness of tail docking in preventing tail biting is limited, since it reduces the symptoms of a behavioral disorder, but does not address the underlying causes.
Although from a practical standpoint the welfare risks arising from tail docking may appear to be negligible compared to those arising during and after tail biting outbreaks, it should be considered that, apart from acute physiological and behavioral responses, tail docking may also elicit long-term effects on weight gain, tail stump sensitivity and animal freedom to express their normal behavior. Such chronic effects have been poorly investigated so far, which is why we must consider deeply to adopt tail docking and take this measure.
Responses to tail docking
Other blood parameters
Decision tree to adopt tail docking
Tips to prevent tail biting and avoid tail docking
1. Enrinchment material
Potential indicators of ineffective or insufficient:
Loss of interest
Rooting in dung
Competition for use of enrichment materials
Long chopped straw
Change the place
Root in it
Why? Explore the environment: Rooting, sniffing, biting and chewing
When? All pigs, all times
How much does it cost?
25% of costs in fattening
8% to 4% in breeding units
Enrichment material: When is it enough?
How do I know if I’m doing it right?
First and foremost, look at your pigs! Are they interested in the material you have provided, or are they manipulating other pigs or pen fittings instead? Are they competing for the material?
Are there any disadvantages?
Straw and roughage can also be used in pens with slatted floors – countries rearing pigs with intact tails report that when using these materials, slurry blockages are rare. Be aware of the origin of the enrichment material to avoid introducing contagious diseases within the production system
100% – 86.4%
86.3% – 18.1%
18% – 0%
Maximum exploratory behaviour – no additional material required
Intermediate exploratory behaviour – no additional material required, altough you may want to reconsider if your figure is close to the lower end
Minimal exploratory behaviour – introduction of enrichment materials recommended
When the pigs are active but not eating, count the number of pigs exploring (manipulating, investigating, chewing) enrichment material. This figure corresponds to ‘A’.
Count the number of pigs interacting with other pigs and pen fittings (do not include eating and drinking). This figure corresponds to ‘B’.
Substitute the letters in this equation with your figures: A/A+B. So if you observe 20 pigs exploring the enrichment material, with an additional 10 pigs interacting with other pigs or fittings, your sum would be 20/30. Now multiply that answer by 100 to give you a percentage. In this case it would be 66.7 %.
Image: Farms with poor conditions that worsen Animal Welfare
If a tail-biting outbreak occurs, it is important to immediately provide the pigs with a lot of distraction. A mixture of different, interesting and manipulable materials can help. Try using some of the following: branches with leaves, ropes (with knots), wood chip, hay, straw, or other edible material.
2. Thermal comfort, air quality and light
Potential indicators of poor quality
Lack of cleanliness
Playing with water and manure
Pigs laying on their sides and/or far apart
Defecating in the resting area
Panting, sneezing or coughing
Lack or high air flow over sleeping areas
Dust, ammonia, CO2
No direct sunlight
40 lux for 8 h a day
Why? Limited capacity to regulate body temperature
Automatic reliable heating systems
Curtains in windows
No in semi-darkness
How much does it cost? Depending on the country
Max of 3000 ppm
Min / max
< 20 ppm
< 10 ppm
Toxicity for people and pigs
< 2.4 mg/m3
Particle size and concentration
The lower the worst. Less than 5 µ arrives to lung alveolus
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