What can carcass-based assessments tell us about the lifetime welfare status of pigs?

What can carcass-based assessments tell us about the lifetime welfare status of pigs?
Carroll et al. 2018. Livestock Science


• The use of carcass measures to understand lifetime pig welfare status was explored.
• Tail and skin lesions acquired in early life remain visible on the carcass.
• These lesions were not necessarily visible on the live animal in later life.
• Carcass weight was negatively associated with persistent tail injuries.
• Therefore carcass lesions and weight provide useful lifetime welfare information.


There is increasing interest in developing abattoir-based measures of farm animal welfare. It is important to understand the extent to which these measures reflect lifetime welfare status. The study aim was to determine whether lesions acquired during different production stages remain visible on the carcass, and the degree to which carcass-based measures may reflect broader health and welfare issues. 532 animals were assessed at 7, 9 and 10 weeks of age (early life, EL), and at 15 and 20 weeks of age (later life, LL) for tail lesions (TL), skin lesions (SL) and a number of health issues (HI) including lameness and coughing. Pigs were categorised according to when individual welfare issues occurred in the production process; ‘early life’ [EL], ‘later life’ [LL], ‘whole life’ [WL], or ‘uninjured’ (U) if showing no signs of a specific welfare issue on-farm. Following slaughter, carcasses were scored for tail length, tail lesions, and skin lesions and cold carcass weights (CCW) were obtained. Generalised linear, ordinal logistic and binary logistic fixed model procedures were carried out to examine the ability of TL, SL and HI lifetime categories to predict carcass traits. Pigs with TL in EL, LL and WL had higher carcass tail lesion scores than U pigs (P < 0.001). Pigs with TL in LL (P < 0.05) and WL (P < 0.001), but not in EL (P > 0.05), also had shorter tails at slaughter than U pigs. In relation to TL scores, U pigs also had a higher cold carcass weight compared to LL and WL (P < 0.001), but not EL pigs (P > 0.05). Pigs with SL in EL, LL and WL had higher healed skin lesion scores on the carcass than U pigs (P < 0.001). Health issues recorded during lifetime were not reflected in carcass measures used (P > 0.05). The current study shows that tail lesions and skin lesions, acquired at least 10 weeks before slaughter, remain evident on the carcass and consequently, may be useful as tools to assist in determining the lifetime welfare status of pigs. Low CCW was associated with tail lesions, supporting previous research suggesting that tail lesions have a negative impact on growth performance in pigs.

Early intervention with enrichment can prevent tail biting outbreaks in weaner pigs

Early intervention with enrichment can prevent tail biting outbreaks in weaner pigs
Lahrmann et al. 2018. Livestock Science.


• Providing extra enrichment as an early intervention reduced tail biting outbreaks.
• Tail damage was observed among weaner pigs with intact tails in 58 of 60 pens.
• Solitary tail damage did occur without escalating into tail biting outbreaks.


Tail biting is a serious animal welfare problem in the modern pig production. A frequently studied preventive measure is enrichment materials, and increasing levels of enrichment materials, especially litter materials, reduces the risk of tail biting. However, permanent access to litter materials, can cause blockage of the slurry system and increase production cost. The aim of the present study was, therefore, to investigate if providing extra enrichment material, when observing the first tail damage could reduce the prevalence of tail biting outbreaks. The study included 1804 weaner pigs from 7 to 30 kg distributed in 60 pens with intact tails. As basic enrichment material, pens were equipped with two wooden sticks and daily provided with approximately 400 g of fine chopped straw. From outside the pen pigs were checked for tail damages three times weekly. When the first tail damage (fresh or scabbed) was recorded, the pen was assigned to one of four treatments; chopped straw (approximately 200 g/pen) on the floor (straw), haylage in a spherical cage (haylage), hanging rope with a sweet block (rope) or no extra material (control). From first treatment day and until a tail biting outbreak, tails were scored three times weekly. A tail biting outbreak occurred when four pigs in a pen had a tail damage, irrespective of wound freshness. The experiment was designed to compare the prevalence of tail biting outbreaks in each of the extra material group with the control group. A treatment was carried out in 44 of the 60 pens: 10 pens with straw, 8 pens with haylage, 7 pens with rope and 19 control pens. The risk of a tail biting outbreak was significantly lower in pens with haylage and straw compared with control pens (P < 0.05), and there tended to be fewer tail biting outbreaks in rope-pens compared with control pens (P = 0.08). The results should, though, be interpreted with caution due to the relatively small sample size. In control pens with no intervention, a tail biting outbreak developed in 42% of the pens within two to five days after the first tail damage was observed, whereas a tail biting outbreak did not occur in 32% of the control pens. In conclusion, a regular tail inspection and the use of extra enrichment material, when the first minor tail damage occur, could be one way to reduce the prevalence of tail biting outbreaks.

Tail amputation causes acute and sustained changes in peripheral somatosensory nerve function involving inflammatory and neuropathic pain pathways

Oral presentation

 Recent Advances in Animal Welfare Science (VI),

UFAW Animal Welfare Conference, Centre for Life, Newcastle, UK 28th June 2018

Coexpression analysis of dorsal root ganglia from tail amputated pigs at different ages reveals long-term transcriptional signatures associated with wound healing and inflammation, and neuropathic pain pathways

DA Sandercock1, JE Coe1, MW Barnett2, TC Freeman2, P Di Giminiani3 and SA Edwards3

1 Animal and Veterinary Science Research Group, SRUC, Edinburgh UK,

2 The Roslin Institute and Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh UK

3 School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Newcastle University, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK

 Concerns exist that docking and biting injuries may be a cause of long term pain in the remaining tail stump during the pig’s lifetime. The potential for long-term pain has been linked to sustained cellular and molecular changes in peripheral sensory neuronal activity. The aim of this study was to conduct a transcriptome analysis of caudal dorsal root ganglia (DRG) gene expression profiles from pigs subjected to tail amputation, in particular examining genes known to be associated with inflammation and neuropathic pain. Microarray analysis was performed on caudal DRG from sham (control) and tail amputated pigs 1, 8 and 16 weeks after tail treatment at either 3 days (neonate) or 63 days (juvenile). Tail amputation injury induced highly significant gene expression changes (both up and down) compared to sham-treated intact controls at both ages (518-2,794 genes, FDR < 0.05) that were still evident 16 weeks after tail amputation. Network correlation analysis using the Markov clustering (MCL) algorithm to define expression modules revealed two highly correlated (PCT r2 = ≥0.75), interrelated transcript expression clusters related to (A) neuronal function (759 genes) and (B) wound healing (273 genes). In cluster A, gene ontology (GO) and pathway enrichment analysis identified genes with significant GO terms for voltage- and ligand-gated ion channel activity linked to regulation of membrane potentials, neurotransmitter levels and synaptic signalling. In cluster B significant gene expression was associated with receptor binding, protein transcription activity and regulation, linked to processes such as response to wounding, regulation of response to wounding, inflammatory response and activation of immune response. Cross-reference against an integrated database of known genes involved in the regulation of inflammatory and neuropathic pain revealed 124 and 61 pain–associated genes in clusters A and B, respectively. Key functional families of ion channels and receptors were significantly down-regulated in cluster A, in particular voltage-gated potassium channels and GABA receptors which are linked to increased neuronal excitability. Up-regulated functional gene families in cluster B were mostly linked to inflammation, macrophage activity, neurohormone and opioid peptide activity. DRG gene expression profiles appear to be linked to sustained tissue inflammation and remodelling (ca. 4 months) and pain perception modulation consistent with adaptive, compensatory responses to injury induced increases in peripheral sensory neuron excitability in the injured tail stump. Tail amputation causes acute and sustained changes in peripheral somatosensory nerve function involving inflammatory and neuropathic pain pathways which have implications for pig welfare.


GroupHouseNet: webstream updates on beak trimming and tail docking

COST action GroupHouseNet Stakeholder Meeting

June 27th 2018


Schedule (Local time in Turkey: CET +1),

Webstreamed session:

09:00-9:05      Brief introduction to the Action and meeting, Action Chair Andrew M. Janczak

09:05-9:10      Introduction from the organiser, Sezen Ozkan

09:15-9:45      Challenges and possible solutions related to damaging behaviour in laying hens, Mia Fernyhough, RSPCA

09:50-10:20    Research on risk factors and prevention of damaging behaviour in laying hens, Elske de Haas, WUR

10:20-10:45    Break

10:50-11:20    Tail biting and actions to prevent tail biting in the EU, Copa Cogeca, Miguel

Angel Higuera, Director ANPROGAPOR, Madrid

11:25-11:55    European Commission project to reduce systematic tail-docking of piglets in

Member States, Desmond Maguire, European Commission, DG Health and Food Safety


How to join the webstream:

  1. Primary link: Ege university digital media server: http://stream.ege.edu.tr/canli2.html. This link can only be viewed with PC/notebook with enable flash player-supported internet browser (does not support mobile phone or tablet view).
  2. Second optionIn case there are any problems, we may use this Youtube link: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCbgZZs7LslTIxC8880ppvew/live


PhD defence on preventing tail biting in pigs online Monday April 9, 2018

Dear all,

I will defend my PhD on Monday, April 9 at 13.00 (UTC +2, due to summertime CEST).

The title is “Two strategies to prevent tail damage in finishers: removal of risk factors and early detection”.

The defence will be in English.

It will begin with a 45 min lecture, a short break and then continue with questions from the opponents until latest 16.00.

The opponents are Emerita Professor Sandra Edwards and Dr. Rick D’Eath.

I have arranged that the defence will be live streamed. It is possible for everyone to join and it is very easy:

  • You will need Java, Adobe Flash Player and do not use the web browser Google Chrome for this
  • Go to vc.au.dk
  • Choose “Live Videos
  • Choose the one named “Foulum Auditorium
  • Now you should be connected and be able to choose between seeing the room, the power point presentation more closely or a combination if you wish

Also, if you know of anyone that could be interested, please just forward this email. Everyone is welcome!

Looking forward to seeing all of you in the future!

Best wishes,

Mona Lilian Vestbjerg Larsen

Curious pigs

A review of tail docking in farm animals

The long and short of it: A review of tail docking in farm animals
Mhairi A. Sutherland, Cassandra B. Tucker, 2011. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 135: 179-191


Tail docking involves amputating a portion of the tail for a variety of reasons. We review the scientific evidence for the rationale for tail docking, a description of the different methods used, the pain response to the procedure and the effectiveness of pain alleviation, and, finally, the alternatives to tail docking and policy regarding the practice. We focus on the three main agricultural species that are tail docked as a management practice: pigs, sheep, and dairy cattle. Methods of tail docking include cutting with a knife or scalpel, cutting with a hot docking iron, or application of a constrictive rubber ring. All methods are commonly performed without analgesia or anaesthesia, and all likely result in some degree of pain. As with any procedure that alters the integrity of an animal, it is important to consider the rationale behind docking in order to evaluate if it is necessary. Tail docking in pigs is routinely conducted on commercial swine farms because it can reduce the incidence of tail biting, an injurious and undesirable behaviour. Both behavioural and physiological changes indicate that tail docking is painful in pigs, but until robust and consistent methods for preventing tail biting are identified, this procedure is likely to continue as a management practice. This approach is reflected in public policy about the procedure. There is both behavioural and physiological evidence that tail docking is painful for sheep; both responses are reduced when pain relief is provided. Prevention of fly strike is the primary reason given for tail docking sheep, but the scientific evidence to support this rationale is surprisingly sparse. Further research is required to justify tail docking of sheep as a routine practice. Dairy cattle are docked because this practice is thought to improve cow cleanliness and udder health, however, there is no scientific evidence supporting this rationale. Tail docking cattle results in relatively few behavioural or physiological indicators of pain, but docked cows are unable to effectively remove flies from their hind end. The practice of tail docking dairy cattle is banned, discouraged or declining in most industrialized countries except the US. The long-term pain associated with tail docking is not well understood in pigs, sheep or cattle. In cases where tail docking may be justified by demonstrated benefits for the animal (possibly in case of pigs and sheep), further research is needed to find either practical alternatives or ways to alleviate the pain associated with this procedure.

Prophylactic use of antibiotics affects piglet welfare

Do weaner pigs need in-feed antibiotics to ensure good health and welfare?
By Alessia Diana, Edgar G. Manzanilla, Julia A. Calderon Diaz, Finola C. Leonard,
Laura A. Boyle. 2017. PlosOne.


Antibiotics (AB) are used in intensive pig production systems to control infectious diseases
and they are suspected to be a major source of antibiotic resistance. Following the ban on
AB use as growth promoters in the EU, their prophylactic use in-feed is now under review.
The aim of this study was to evaluate the effect of removing prophylactic in-feed AB on pig
health and welfare indicators. Every Monday for six weeks, a subset of 70 pigs were
weaned, tagged and sorted into two groups of 35 pigs according to weight (9.2 ± 0.6 kg). AB
were removed from the diet of one group (NO, n = 6) and maintained in the other group (AB,
n = 6) for nine weeks. Ten focal pigs were chosen per group. After c. five weeks each group
was split into two pens of c.17 pigs for the following 4 weeks. Data were recorded weekly.
Skin, tail, ear, flank and limb lesions of focal pigs were scored according to severity. The
number of animals per group affected by health deviations was also recorded. The number
of fights and harmful behaviours (ear, tail bites) per group was counted during 3×5min
observations once per week. Data were analysed using mixed model equations and binomial
logistic regression. At group level, AB pigs were more likely to have tail (OR = 1.70; P =
0.05) but less likely to have ear lesions than NO pigs (OR = 0.46; P<0.05). The number of
ear bites (21.4±2.15 vs. 17.3±1.61; P<0.05) and fights (6.91±0.91 vs. 5.58±0.72; P = 0.09)
was higher in AB than in NO pigs. There was no effect of treatment on health deviations and
the frequency of these was low. Removing AB from the feed of weaner pigs had minimal
effects on health and welfare indicators.

Indirect Genetic Effects for Growth Rate in Domestic Pigs Alter Aggressive and Manipulative Biting Behaviour

Indirect Genetic Effects for Growth Rate in Domestic Pigs Alter Aggressive and Manipulative Biting Behaviour
By Irene Camerlink, Winanda W. Ursinus, Piter Bijma, Bas Kemp, J. Elizabeth Bolhuis. 2015. Behavior Genetics 45: 117–126.

Indirect genetic effects (IGEs) are heritable effects of an individual on phenotypic values of others, and may result from social interactions. We determined the behavioural consequences of selection for IGEs for growth (IGEg) in pigs in a G × E treatment design. Pigs (n = 480) were selected for high versus low IGEg with a contrast of 14 g average daily gain and were housed in either barren or straw-enriched pens (n = 80). High IGEg pigs showed from 8 to 23 weeks age 40 % less aggressive biting (P = 0.006), 27 % less ear biting (P = 0.03), and 40 % less biting on enrichment material (P = 0.005). High IGEg pigs had a lower tail damage score (high 2.0; low 2.2; P = 0.004), and consumed 30 % less jute sacks (P = 0.002). Selection on high IGEg reduced biting behaviours additive to the, generally much larger, effects of straw-bedding (P < 0.01), with no G × E interactions. These results show opportunities to reduce harmful biting behaviours in pigs.

Two-level pen may be feasible option to increase space allowance and to create functional areas in a piglet pen

Use of space and behavior of weaned piglets kept in enriched two-level housing system
By Michaela Fels, Franziska Lüthje, Alice Faux-Nightingale & Nicole Kemper. 2018 Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science

In this study, the possibility of introducing an elevated platform to a piglet pen was explored as a way of increasing available space and creating functional areas. On the platform, nine different manipulable materials were offered. In four batches, 40 weaned piglets were kept for five weeks in the two-level pen. Video recordings were taken two days per week. In the afternoon, more piglets were on the platform than in the morning or at night (7.2 ± 0.1 vs. 4.9 ± 0.1 vs. 0.6 ± 0.1 piglets/5 minutes; p < .05). The area under the platform was preferred more in the morning and at night than in the afternoon (18.5 ± 0.1 vs. 21.6 ± 0.2 vs. 12.5 ± 0.1 piglets/5 minutes; p < .05). Up to 36 piglets were counted there simultaneously, mainly in the recumbent position. On and under the platform, air velocity and ammonia concentration were within the recommended ranges. The study concluded that a two-level pen is a feasible option to increase space allowance and to create functional areas in a piglet pen.

Weaned littermate piglets seem less socially connected and prone to becoming tail-biting victims

Understanding Tail-Biting in Pigs through Social Network Analysis

By Yuzhi Li, Haifeng Zhang, Lee. Johnston and Wayne Martin 2018. Animals 2018, 8(1), 13

The objective of this study was to investigate the association between social structure and incidence of tail-biting in pigs. Pigs (n = 144, initial weight = 7.2 ± 1.57 kg, 4 weeks of age) were grouped based on their litter origin: littermates, non-littermates, and half-group of littermates. Six pens (8 pigs/pen) of each litter origin were studied for 6 weeks. Incidence of tail injury and growth performance were monitored. Behavior of pigs was video recorded for 6 h at 6 and 8 weeks of age. Video recordings were scanned at 10 min intervals to register pigs that were lying together (1) or not (0) in binary matrices. Half weight association index was used for social network construction. Social network analysis was performed using the UCINET software. Littermates had lower network density (0.119 vs. 0.174; p < 0.05), more absent social ties (20 vs. 12; p < 0.05), and fewer weak social ties (6 vs. 14, p < 0.05) than non-littermates, indicating that littermates might be less socially connected. Fifteen percent of littermates were identified as victimized pigs by tail-biting, and no victimized pigs were observed in other treatment groups. These results suggest that littermates might be less socially connected among themselves which may predispose them to development of tail-biting.