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Tail biting - more information coming available for its prevention

More information is coming out about the perceived causes of tail biting and ways of controlling it. Can anything prevent it occurring completely though?

More information is coming out about the perceived causes of tail biting and ways of controlling it. Can anything prevent it occurring completely though?

There have been two recent studies looking at tail biting and what British farmers perceived as the main causes and some practical Dutch work showing what might help reduce the incidence.

UK study
In the UK study, farmers were asked what they thought were the possible causal factors of tail biting. The questionnaire was sent out to 429 members of Freedom Foods, a farm assurance scheme that encourages high standards of welfare for its producers.

Approximately, 157 farmers responded, which is a relatively high sample number. Of these 42% did not dock their pigs tails (twice the UK average) but 29% did and a further 29% reported that some of their pig's tails were docked.

Boredom
Interestingly, boredom was the number one cause, followed by lack of straw, high density stocking and pigs in a bad mood.

In the Dutch study, they looked at preventative measures to reduce the incidence of tail wounding in young pigs. They added chains, rubber hoses, straw in racks (to stop the straw blocking the slatted floor) and the addition of small quantities of straw twice daily (20g/pig/day in total).

Chains and rubber pipes
It showed that chains and rubber pipes were relatively ineffective in reducing tail wounding in young pigs on a pen basis. Straw racks were only moderately effective but small quantities of straw given twice a day were seven times more effective than chains, which are commonly used as a token to the supply of manipulable materials.

The straw is more labour intensive but it gave the pigs something to do and may have reduced boredom, as reported as the main cause in the first study and may have stopped them getting into a 'bad mood'.

Removing the biter
Once tail biting started, the removal of the biter and the addition of straw both helped reduce the level of tail wounds, but did not eliminate it.

Pig producers will continue to be under pressure to improve the welfare of their animals and stop tail docking and possibly the addition of small quantities of straw on a regular basis may help reduce the problem of tail biting, but nothing at the moment appears to completely eliminate the problem.

9 comments

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    John Ernst

    I may have a solution, which is related to nutrition. The material required is 100% organic.

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    MARLENE TAIWHATI

    I HAVE BEEN LOOKING AT OUR YOUNGER GROWERS AND TAIL BITING IN SOME INSTANCES ARE THERE,ON A CLOSER LOOK I DO BELIEVE IT IS BORDEM THAT THEY DO THIS, I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN TOLD IT IS LACK OF SALT IN THEIR DIET WHICH MAY OR NOT BE CORRECT, I HAVE REMOVED THE INSTAGATORS AND THIS HAS STOPPED AND FUNNILY ENOUGH THEY WERE PUT IN THE SAME PENS AND DIDNT BITE EACH OTHERS TAIL!

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    John Gadd

    I`ve had 40 years experience of advising on some 200 tailbiting cases - in fact the first article I ever wrote was on this subject in 1968 after two years of trouble on our own farm.

    My experience since then suggests that easily the two main foundation causes are Overstocking and Boredom.

    Overstocking is easy - just follow the rules! So many people overcrowd and when it is allied to poor ventilation which it invariably is, tailbiting is much more likely.
    Boredom? Even when properly stocked and comfortable pigs like to nose things around. The best toy for this is a 1 to 2 m. length of plastic piping. But eventually they will get bored with this too, so change to something else - a plastic ball, paper bags (not plastic) etc. Rotate every 10 days or so if required.

    No, not chains - they slap others in the face and raises stress. I agree, straw is excellent but even a little tends to clog up the slats.

    Of course there are many other less likely causes, but just attend to those underlying two and 80% of your problem is likely to go away. Attend to stocking density/ventilation first and you may not need to use toys, which can be always be used if biting starts.
    And if it still goes on? Get a management advisor like myself or an experienced pig vet on to the farm who can often notice something else which has tipped the balance.

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    David Burch

    Hi John, thanks for the comments. How many farms did you go on and advise tail docking as well?

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    unit manager

    we did not have tail biting on
    this unit until TESCO in all
    their wisdom insisted sows that produce their slaughter
    line of pigs had to have tails
    despite veterinery advice to the contrary

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    Dr Miroslav F. Besermenji

    Ou farm (8000 pigs) has less incidence after start to kontroll drinking water quality. It seems that chlorine has not such effect as ecological biocides.
    In-Vet Institute
    miroslavbesermenji@yahoo.com

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    noni Ward

    I wonder if it not boredom alone, but a more immature pig that has been weaned in the batch that is not quite ready to leave Mum. He tries to gain a feed from the others and bites instead. I have watched this in other people piggeries and wonder if this is a problem that has been very much overlooked.

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    Gino Totté Panagro health & nutrition

    In some cases mycotoxins (e.g. DON) could be involved.

    Research have been shown that pigs get more restless when feed contains DON.

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    John Mills comments:-

    A dominant idea may be an obstacle to progress since it is not possible to look in a different direction by looking harder in the same direction. The reductionist approach to explaining biological phenomena has displayed its power through the spectacular triumphs of normal scientific research activity. However the reductionist approach has its limitations, it is not likely to be useful, or practicable, to explain complex biological processes. Just because a problem is complicated does not mean that it cannot be understood at all.

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