Ear necrosis in pigs

An investigation of ear necrosis in pigs
Jeonghwa Park, Robert M. Friendship, Zvonimir Poljak, Josepha DeLay, Durda Slavic, and Catherine E. Dewey
Can Vet J v.54(5): 491-495.


Porcine ear necrosis was investigated in 23 conveniently chosen farms, consisting of 14 case farms and 9 control farms. Biopsies of lesions and oral swabs from pigs on 11 case farms were examined by histology and bacterial culture. All farms were visited for observations and a survey on management, housing, and the presence of other clinical signs or behavioral vices. Histological examination revealed that the lesions began on the surface and progressed to deeper layers, and that vascular damage did not appear to be the initiating cause. Spirochetes were only rarely observed in histological examination and were not cultured from biopsies and oral swabs. Staphylococcus aureus and Staphylococcus hyicus were cultured from 91% and 66% of samples, respectively. Ear biting and a humid environment were associated with ear necrosis. On some farms large numbers of pigs were affected and lesions were sometimes extensive. The condition appears to be an infectious disease beginning on the surface of the skin; contributing environmental and management factors are likely.

Practical guide to enrichment for pigs

A Practical Guide to Environmental Enrichment for Pigs – A handbook for pig farmers. By AHDB Pork, UK

“This guide aims to give practical advice to pig farmers surrounding the complex
issue of providing suitable environmental enrichment to pigs. It provides
useful information from the knowledge of farmers, researchers and scientific
literature on the different ways environmental enrichment can be provided for
differing types of housing and systems. The information is set out in sections
by housing type, and in each, the types of enrichments that are most suited
to each system are discussed, including their properties, how to present
the enrichment, quantities and practical considerations, such as ease of
installation, maintenance and costs.” (cited from the introduction in the guide).


Reducing crude protein levels in pig diets to increase protein efficiency may also increase damaging behaviours, esp. under conditions of poor sanitation

A link between damaging behaviour in pigs, sanitary conditions, and dietary protein and amino acid supply
By Yvonne van der Meer, Walter J. J. Gerrits, Alfons J. M. Jansman, Bas Kemp, J. Elizabeth Bolhuis. PLOS, Published: May 8, 2017


The tendency to reduce crude protein (CP) levels in pig diets to increase protein efficiency may increase the occurrence of damaging behaviours such as ear and tail biting, particularly for pigs kept under suboptimal health conditions. We studied, in a 2×2×2 factorial design, 576 tail-docked growing-finishing entire male pigs in 64 pens, subjected to low (LSC) vs. high sanitary conditions (HSC), and fed a normal CP (NP) vs. a low CP diet (LP, 80% of NP) ad libitum, with a basal amino acid (AA) profile or supplemented AA profile with extra threonine, tryptophan and methionine. The HSC pigs were vaccinated in the first nine weeks of life and received antibiotics at arrival at experimental farm at ten weeks, after which they were kept in a disinfected part of the farm with a strict hygiene protocol. The LSC pigs were kept on the same farm in non-disinfected pens to which manure from another pig farm was introduced fortnightly. At 15, 18, and 24 weeks of age, prevalence of tail and ear damage and of tail and ear wounds was scored. At 20 and 23 weeks of age, frequencies of biting behaviour and aggression were scored for 10×10 min per pen per week. The prevalence of ear damage during the finisher phase (47 vs. 32% of pigs, P < 0.0001) and the frequency of ear biting (1.3 vs. 1.2 times per hour, P = 0.03) were increased in LSC compared with HSC pigs. This effect on ear biting was diet dependent, however, the supplemented AA profile reduced ear biting only in LSC pigs by 18% (SC × AA profile, P < 0.01). The prevalence of tail wounds was lower for pigs in LSC (13 ± 0.02) than for pigs in HSC (0.22 ± 0.03) in the grower phase (P < 0.007). Regardless of AA profile or sanitary status, LP pigs showed more ear biting (+20%, P < 0.05), tail biting (+25%, P < 0.10), belly nosing (+152%, P < 0.01), other oral manipulation directed at pen mates (+13%, P < 0.05), and aggression (+30%, P < 0.01) than NP pigs, with no effect on ear or tail damage. In conclusion, both low sanitary conditions and a reduction of dietary protein increase the occurrence of damaging behaviours in pigs and therefore may negatively impact pig welfare. Attention should be paid to the impact of dietary nutrient composition on pig behaviour and welfare, particularly when pigs are kept under suboptimal (sanitary) conditions.

Mixing weaned piglets did affect tail biting

The effect of mixing piglets after weaning on the occurrence of tail-biting during rearing
By Christina Veit, Kathrin Büttner, Imke Traulsen, Marvin Gertz, Mario Hasler, Onno Burfeind, Elisabeth grosse Beilage, Joachim Krieter, 2017. Livestock Science 201: 70–73.

The aim of this study was to investigate the effects on tail-biting during rearing of housing piglets of the same litter compared to piglets from different litters. The treatments “litter-wise” (LW, n =240) and “mixed litters” (ML, n =238) were housed in five identical units. Each tail was scored regarding tail lesions and tail losses once per week with a four-point score (0= no damage/original length to 3= severe damage/total loss). The effect of week after weaning had highly significant influences on tail lesions (p<0.001). Tail-biting started in the second week after weaning, with an increasing severity during rearing. First tail losses were observed in the fourth week after weaning. The batch and the interaction between treatment and batch had highly significant influences on tail losses at the end of rearing (p<0.001). Depending on batch, piglets in the LW or ML treatment were more affected by tail-biting.

Tail biting app (advisory tool)

The Tail Biting “WebHAT” (Web based Husbandry Advisory Tool) is a website designed to be an interactive resource providing information about the key risks for tail biting in pigs and practical suggestions to help reduce these risks on-farm.

Taking information from evidence-based sources and scientific literature, this WebHAT identifies a number of risks associated with tail biting (a key pig behaviour), and can be used to generate a report of prioritised, key tail-biting risks found on a farm and obtain suggestions to address the specific risks identified

You can access the WebHAT tool here.

Tail biting pigs

Is it possible to get rid of tail docking

Is it possible to get rid of tail docking? By Vincent ter Beek 2017. Article in PigProgress about FareWellDock.

Tail docking is a well-known practice in pig production, but it is also heavily criticised. An international team of researchers dived into the topic and wondered what its exact effects are on pigs – and what alternatives there are to avoid tail biting….

Read more @ PigProgress.

Note: This article is an approved summary of the Executive Summary which was published earlier this year at http://farewelldock.eu. In future issues of Pig Progress, to be published later this year, several participating researchers in this project will delve deeper into the individual topics they encountered.

Enrichment may affect decision making in pigs

Effects of environmental enrichment on decision-making behavior in pigs
by F. Josef van der Staay, Johanna A. van Zutphen, Mirjam M. de Ridder, Rebecca E. Nordquist, 2017. Applied Animal Behaviour Science.


The animal’s emotional state, eventually modulated by environmental conditions, may affect cognitive processes such as interpretation, judgement and decision making behaviour. The Iowa Gambling Task (IGT) is a common method to examine decision making behavior in humans in terms of risk avoidance and risk taking that reflects the underlying emotional state of the subject. In the present study, we investigated the influence of environmental conditions on decision-making in pigs. To assess decision making behavior in pigs, the Pig Gambling task has been developed. In this task, the pig can choose between two alternatives. The pigs can make advantageous or disadvantageous choices, where advantageous, low risk choices deliver smaller, but more frequent rewards, whereas disadvantageous, high risk choices yield larger, but less frequent rewards. In the long run, over a series of successive trials, the advantageous choices will yield more reward and less punishment, where punishment consists of delivering reward into the central food trough, but making it inaccessible. After habituation to testing apparatus and testing methods during the course of approximately 4 weeks, all pigs learned to discriminate between the advantageous and disadvangeous alternatives (acquisition phase) at the age of 9 weeks. After a 14-week retention interval, at the age of 24 weeks, retention performance was tested (retention phase). In both phases, 20 trials per day were given to a total of 120 trials. Saliva and hair samples were collected once at the end of both phases for determining cortisol, and body mass was measured at the end of the retention phase. The pigs increased the number of advantageous choices during the course of training. In in the acquisition phase, barren-housed pigs chose the advantageous options more often compared to environmentally enriched pigs. No differences werer found during the retention phase. All pigs made less advantageous choices at the start of the retention phase than at the end of the acquisition phase. The level of hair cortisol was higher in the barren-housed than in the enriched-housed pigs. This difference was more pronounced after acquisition than after retention testing. No other differences were found for cortisol in saliva and hair. The environments did not differentially affect body mass at the end of the study. Summarizing, housing in a barren environment appears to be more stressful than housing in an enriched environment, as indicated by higher hair cortisol levels in barren-housed pigs, but it also improved acquisition of the PGT.

AMI-sensors, Farewelldock and the future of pig farming

This is a brief note on the use of AMI-sensors and the future of pig farming from the NL partner (MB) in the FareWellDock project.

The future of pig farming

The world is rapidly changing it seems, in major respects. A major energy transition is taking place reducing the dependence on fossil fuels. Agriculture must become more circular to reduce its impact on global warming. Another major transition that is taking place is the increasing role of information technology. Smart farming may soon become reality.  At the same time farm-animal welfare is an increasingly-recognised societal concern.  Since I have been working as an scientist on the interface between information-technology and pig welfare for some time now, I thought it could be interesting to share some thoughts on what the future of pig farming might look like.

AMI sensors

My most recent work related to smart farming, at least to some extent, was on AMI sensors of pig enrichment. AMI stands for animal material interactions. AMI sensors can take various shapes and forms. In some way or other AMI sensors record the amount of interaction pigs have with enrichment materials for pigs. Mostly this concerns hanging toys like chains and ropes with or without suspended materials like pieces of wood. So far the use of AMI sensors is (mainly) restricted to applications for scientific purposes, e.g. to measure the value of (different aspects of) enrichment materials (directly or indirectly), the effect of tail-biting ointments, and abnormal and/or sickness behaviour. Using AMI sensors it was possible to acquire new knowledge about enrichment. For example it was confirmed more objectively that destructibility is important for pigs. And we found that repellents may have some effect in reducing tail biting, and that pigs in tail biting pens seem to be more eager to interact with enrichment than pigs in control pens. (You can find my publication list of AMI sensors and abstracts here.) However, AMI sensors are not ready to be implemented for on-farm use, as their application generates difficulties partly because pig pens constitute a rather challenging environment for electronics but also in relation to how to properly interpret what is being recorded.

Decision support system

In 1996 I started my PhD research. I examined ways in which information technology could be used to assess animal welfare. I developed a methodology, called semantic modelling of animal welfare to derive welfare scores based on scientific knowledge. I implemented these principles to assess the welfare state of pregnant sows by developing a decision support system to assess sow welfare (the SOWEL model). A lesson regarding the future of pig farming from my PhD research may be that farmers shouldn’t be expecting that information technology and smart farming is going to make their life a lot simpler. The implementation of smart farming won’t be comparable to farmers buying a sat nav device for their farms, allowing them to forget all about road maps.

AMI sensors are not like sat nav

Tail biting and FareWellDock

As the name suggests the FareWellDock project was an international research project aimed to reduce routine tail docking of pigs in the EU. EU legislation has banned tail docking for many years now and it is most likely that future pig farming will require raising pigs with intact tails without much tail biting. This is going to be a major challenge for conventional pig farming. Countries like Denmark, the UK, Germany and the Netherlands are in various stages on the road towards this goal. Some countries like Finland and Sweden may even be said to have arrived at their final destination in this respect. Even in these countries, however, there is a continuing need to reduce tail biting and improve pig enrichment, a major risk factor for tail biting.

From my work on tail biting two major suggestions regarding the future can be made. One recommendation extends the previous one, that farming isn’t going to be simple. Tail biting is a multifactorial problem, i.e. many stressors related to enrichment, climate, feed and social conditions, may contribute to it. Underlying most of these risk factors, however, are decisions made by the farmer him/herself. In line with this I have previously suggested that perhaps the pig farmer may well be the most important risk factor for tail biting. Farmers do not always appreciate this.

The other suggestion concerns the conventional view that scientists should first solve a problem before farmers should implement it. This may have worked well with problems in the past, but it may not work for the remaining, more persistent problems like improving enrichment and raising pigs with intact tails. It is more likely that pig farmers will have to take the initiative and perhaps even start to do some collaborative ‘research’ themselves (for more details on this idea, which I have labelled ‘intelligent natural design’ see Bracke, 2010, Bracke et al., 2011, Bracke, 2016 and esp. Bracke, In press (forthcoming in june 2017)).


Animal Transport Guides – Project & Newsletter

Animal Transport Guidelines Project

The European Commission, DG Sante project aims to improve animal welfare around transport. The project will develop and disseminate Guides to Good and Best Practice for animals transported within Europe and to third countries for slaughter, fattening and breeding. Guides will be developed for cattle, horses, pigs, poultry and sheep transport. The project started in May 2015 and will finish by the end of 2018.

The project is divided into 5 tasks
•Task 1: Collection
Collect and collate appropriate best practices implemented and supported by scientific evidence
•Task 2 and 3: Development
Develop practical guidelines with those that will use it
•Task 4: Dissemination
Disseminate these guidelines through the networks of the main European stakeholder groups involved
•Task 5: Verification
To verify if the new transport guidelines reached the end-users

See the project website for more information (e.g. guides, factsheets and roadshows; available in 8 languages: English, German, French, Greek, Romanian, Polish, Spanish and Italian).

You can also sign up for the newsletter of the Animal Transport Guidelines project.