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Should piglet tail docking be banned in the EU?

Most farmers will have come across the problem at one stage or another: tailbiting. To prevent this, the practice of preventive taildocking is widespread. However, in an ideal world, it should not be necessary to trim the tails off piglets to stop them. Should piglet tail docking be banned in the EU?

As part of the continuing review of pig welfare, various EU committees are looking at this issue. In an ideal world, it should not be necessary to trim the tails off piglets to stop them tail biting when they get older.

As part of the continuing review of pig welfare, various EU committees are looking at this issue. In an ideal world, it should not be necessary to trim the tails off piglets to stop them tail biting when they get older.

Unfortunately, most farmers will have come across the problem at one stage or another, even in straw-based systems and seen the ravages of tail biting in a group of pigs, which can be horrendous.

Consequences
A severely tail-bitten pig can lose its whole tail, anus and perineum and as a result die.

A less severely bitten pig can still suffer badly and the chronic effects, such as abscessation locally and systemically, can lead to paralysis if it affects the spinal cord or can involve the lung and other organs, commonly causing condemnations at slaughter.

It is a horrible condition, one which farmers try hard to avoid in the UK by tail docking.

UK study
A study in the UK looking at nearly 63,000 pigs at slaughter and showed that 9.2% of long-tailed pigs had tail-bitten lesions but only 3.1% of docked pigs. Docking reduced the incidence of biting by 66.3%. Interestingly, 80.9% of the pigs had been tail docked, showing how widespread the practice is and how seriously farmers take the potential problem.

Obviously, slaughter pigs do not reflect those that have been severely affected and either died or have become chronic cases, so the true incidence cannot be assessed but is likely to be higher.

Profiling the biter
A recent Swedish study looked at profiling the biter not the bitten, to understand why this condition developed. They found that 70.4% of the biters were female and 29.6% male.

They were usually smaller and slower growing than their average pen mates. They spent a lot less time eating and drinking, almost half that of their unbitten larger pen mates and almost twice as much time rooting in straw and nosing other pigs and generally being more active.

Some Danish authors thought that tail biting might be the result of three mechanisms, either alone or in combination and these were frustration, stress and predisposition.

School room mechanism
One can easily picture a smaller, female pig, low down the pecking order that has poor feed-trough access, biting a larger pen mate from behind and getting away before it has turned round. It is a bit reminiscent of the school room.

This leads to a number of questions:

• Is tail biting a problem in your country?

• Is tail docking commonly carried out?

• How do you prevent tail biting?

• Are we ready to ban tail docking in the EU?

9 comments

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    Greg Ludvigsen Australia

    we ceased taildocking in response to new code of practice recommendation and have experienced unbelievable level of tailbiting. impact on pigs, bottom line and worker morale severe. Recommenced taildocking as soon as problem emerged in growers and problem solved. However had to grow undocked pigs through whole growth phase (16 weeks) Every pig had tail docked by pen mates. Most were able to avoid infection through strong immune system but significant numbers had joint infections in spine and legs.
    Do not consider ceasing taildocking under any circumstances

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    Jimmy USA

    I don't really understand why it even a topic. What are the farmers that choose to dock hurting? If done at an early age or with a band there is no pain, therefore no cruelty. So as I said I really don't understand the subject. If I have missed something please explain.

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    Ivan Lauvena

    I think it is not necessary to take part of the piglet tail since it has a proper utilization. when become older maybe some are seperated in each cage(system)

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    nagesh

    it is a good suggestion .

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    Ross Minett, Director, Advocates for Animals

    I'm afraid Jimmy USA is wrong to claim that the tail-docking of pigs does not cause pain. The humane solution is to keep pigs in conditions whereby they are not so stressed and bored that they tail-bite and so tail-docking is not needed as a 'welfare' solution. A recent report on this and other related issues may be of interest: Painful Reality - Why painful mutilations of animals must be reviewed, can be found at: www. advocatesforanimals.org/pdf/painfulreality.pdf
    Yours sincerely
    ROSS MINETT MSc BSc (Hons)
    Director
    Advocates for Animals
    10 Queensferry Street, Edinburgh, EH2 4PG, Scotland, UK
    Tel: +44 (0) 131 225 6039
    Fax: +44 (0) 131 220 6377
    www.advocatesforanimals.org

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    Lee

    Give the pigs enough space and environmental stimulation. This just does not happen in a free range environment.

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    GVandenHoven/Canada

    If tails are docked at day one and sprayed with iodine, it will heal quickly and prevent further problems of tail biting and all the associated problems later. It seems only those who are booked learned ,not those working with pigs everyday are advocting leaving the tail long so it can be chewed later. If pigs were all raised in separated pens they would be lonely but would not have their tail altered. Mind you this is not practical just as it is not practical to leave the tail in tact.

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    noni Ward

    I have run pigs for some 10 years and have not had to dock tails. I run Free range and the pigs have plenty to do so there is no need to tail dock. If free range was used no one else would have to dock tails either.

    Noni ward

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    Innorbrackica

    Wow, I did not know about this topic till now. Thankz!!

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