Funders and dates: RESAS RD 2.3.1., Danish Innovation Fund (Innovationsfonden), March 2015 - Feb 2018
Collaborators/partners: SRUC, Danish Pig Research Centre (SEGES) and Copenhagen University
This project involves a collaboration with a PhD student studying at the Danish Pig Research Centre (SEGES), and Copenhagen University.
Tail biting remains a persistent, unpredictable and costly problem for pig producers, and is a major welfare challenge for pigs. Outbreaks result in tail wounds, a source of infection which can spread systemically resulting in illness and death, and partial or total carcass condemnation at slaughter.
There are multiple factors affecting the ‘background’ risk of tail biting, rather than a single cause making it frustratingly hard to control. The trigger for any given outbreak can vary and is usually unknown. The current ‘solutions’ to tail biting have their flaws: Tail docking of piglets is widely used and does reduce tail biting damage, but is not completely effective. Further, this mutilation is itself a welfare concern, seen as undesirable by consumers and its routine use is now banned in the EU (by Council Directive 2008/120/EC). Tail biting can also be reduced (but not completely prevented) by the use of loose material substrates such as straw or wood or by objects hanging in the pen such as knotted ropes which occupy pigs’ behavioural need to root and chew. However, pigs find fresh destructible materials most attractive meaning that materials have to be regularly replenished, which adds expense. Further, there is the technical difficulty that many farms have slatted floors with liquid-slurry systems which cannot cope well with solid materials.
In this project, we will begin by providing commercial-farm scale evidence of the effectiveness and need for tail docking. What are the consequences of cessation of tail docking on tail biting in well-managed herds? We will study a commercial farm with a low risk of tail biting, as assessed by the tail biting incidence among the tail docked pigs in the herd and based on already known risk factors for tail biting.
The next part of the project will investigate changes in pig behaviour which occur prior to an actual injurious tail biting outbreak. We will investigate the nature and timing of these changes. For example, studies have shown that tail posture is lower, tail-directed behaviours and activity increase. These early changes in behaviour have the potential to be used as ‘early warning signs’ by vigilant farmers. Therefore the last part of the project will investigate whether tail injuries can be prevented if the pigs are given extra environmental enrichment as soon as changes in their behaviour are seen which indicate a future tail biting outbreak.