Monthly Archives: December 2018

How to control injurious tail biting without tail docking of pigs

Injurious tail biting in pigs: How can it be controlled in existing systems without tail docking. By D’Eath RB, Arnott G, Turner SP, Jensen T, Lahrmann HP, Busch ME, Niemi JK, Lawrence AB, Sandøe P, 2014. Animal 8:1479-97.

Abstract Tail biting is a serious animal welfare and economic problem in pig production. Tail docking, which reduces but does not eliminate tail biting, remains widespread. However, in the EU tail docking may not be used routinely, and some ‘alternative’ forms of pig production and certain countries do not allow tail docking at all. Against this background, using a novel approach focusing on research where tail injuries were quantified, we review the measures that can be used to control tail biting in pigs without tail docking. Using this strict criterion, there was good evidence that manipulable substrates and feeder space affect damaging tail biting. Only epidemiological evidence was available for effects of temperature and season, and the effect of stocking density was unclear. Studies suggest that group size has little effect, and the effects of nutrition, disease and breed require further investigation. The review identifies a number of knowledge gaps and promising avenues for future research into prevention and mitigation. We illustrate the diversity of hypotheses concerning how different proposed risk factors might increase tail biting through their effect on each other or on the proposed underlying processes of tail biting. A quantitative comparison of the efficacy of different methods of provision of manipulable materials, and a review of current practices in countries and assurance schemes where tail docking is banned, both suggest that daily provision of small quantities of destructible, manipulable natural materials can be of considerable benefit. Further comparative research is needed into materials, such as ropes, which are compatible with slatted floors. Also, materials which double as fuel for anaerobic digesters could be utilised. As well as optimising housing and management to reduce risk, it is important to detect and treat tail biting as soon as it occurs. Early warning signs before the first bloody tails appear, such as pigs holding their tails tucked under, could in future be automatically detected using precision livestock farming methods enabling earlier reaction and prevention of tail damage. However, there is a lack of scientific studies on how best to respond to outbreaks: the effectiveness of, for example, removing biters and/or bitten pigs, increasing enrichment, or applying substances to tails should be investigated. Finally, some breeding companies are exploring options for reducing the genetic propensity to tail bite. If these various approaches to reduce tail biting are implemented we propose that the need for tail docking will be reduced.

Prenatal stress and enrichment affect piglet behaviour

Impact of prenatal stress and environmental enrichment prior to weaning on activity and social behaviour of piglets (Sus scrofa). By Sophie Brajon, Nadine Ringgenberg, Stephanie Torrey, Renée Bergeron, Nicolas Devillers, 2017. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 197: 15-23.


• Prenatal stress (PNS) can have detrimental effects on piglets behaviour and welfare.

• Pre-weaning enrichment may compensate negative effects of PNS in piglets.

• PNS effects were delayed after weaning at d 27 as shown by an increased inactivity.

• Enrichment had positive effects but its removal at weaning affected behaviour.

• Pre-weaning enrichment did not compensate for the effects of PNS.


Prenatal stress (PNS) can have detrimental effects on behaviour and welfare, such as decreased exploration. Whether housing enrichment before weaning compensate negative effect of PNS in commercial pigs is unknown. To address this question, 44 sows were assigned to either a mixing stress (T) or a control (C) treatment in mid-gestation. During lactation, half of the T and C sows were housed with their 12-piglets litter in straw enriched pens (E) while the others were housed in standard farrowing crates (S). At weaning, 6 piglets per litter were selected and moved to non-enriched standard pens. Lying down, exploration and social behaviour were recorded in the home-pen before weaning (d 6, d 12, d 20), on the day of weaning (d 21), and after weaning (d 22, d 27) using scan and one-zero samplings. Three piglets per litter were individually subjected to a social isolation test and a social confrontation test at d 17. Data were analysed by day using mixed models with PNS, housing enrichment and their interaction as fixed effects. We found no interaction between the treatments, suggesting the absence of a compensatory effect of enrichment on PNS. Pre-weaning enrichment promoted exploration (P< 0.004) and seemed to improve comfort, as piglets spent more time lying down (P< 0.02), but was associated with reduced locomotion and play fighting (P< 0.03) compared to no enrichment. After weaning, E piglets explored less (P< 0.01) and played less (locomotion and fighting play: P< 0.0003) than S piglets. They also performed more belly-nosing at d 27 (P =0.04). These results support the idea that the removal of enrichment at weaning negatively affects piglets. The E piglets exhibited higher emotional reactivity than S piglets (i.e. more high-pitched calls and escape attempts) during the social isolation test, but no clear effect was observed during the confrontation test. The effects of prenatal stress on behaviour were only apparent after weaning. On d 27, T piglets spent more time lying (P =0.02), and showed reduced exploration (P =0.004), locomotion play (P=0.03), fighting play (P=0.04) and mounting behaviour (P =0.002) than C piglets. In conclusion, both prenatal stress and pre-weaning enrichment affected piglet behaviour, but a compensatory effect of enrichment on the negative effects of prenatal stress could not be demonstrated.

Tail posture predicts tail biting outbreaks in pigs

Tail posture predicts tail biting outbreaks at pen level in weaner pigs. By Helle Pelant Lahrmann, Christian Fink Hansen, Rick D’Eath, Marie Erika Busch, Björn Forkman, 2018. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 200: 29-35.


• Changes in tail posture can predict a tail biting outbreak at pen level.

• Percentage of hanging tails in pens close to an outbreak was almost doubled.

• A correlation between number of tail damages and lowered tails were identified.

• No changes in activity was identified prior to a tail biting outbreak.


Detecting a tail biting outbreak early is essential to reduce the risk of pigs getting severe tail damage. A few previous studies suggest that tail posture and behavioural differences can predict an upcoming outbreak. The aim of the present study was therefore to investigate if differences in tail posture and behaviour could be detected at pen level between upcoming tail biting pens (T-pens) and control pens (C-pens). The study included 2301 undocked weaner pigs in 74 pens (mean 31.1 pigs/pen; SD 1.5). Tails were scored three times weekly (wound freshness, wound severity and tail length) between 07:00 h–14:00 h from weaning until a tail biting outbreak. An outbreak (day 0) occurred when at least four pigs had a tail damage, regardless of wound freshness. On average 7.6 (SD 4.3) pigs had a damaged tail (scratches + wound) in T-pens on day 0. Tail posture and behaviour (activity, eating, explorative, pen mate and tail directed behaviour) were recorded in T-pens and in matched C-pens using scan sampling every half hour between 0800–1100 h 1700–2000 h on day -3, -2 and -1 prior to the tail biting outbreak in T-pens. Further, to investigate if changes in tail posture could be a measure for use under commercial conditions, tail posture was recorded by direct observation from outside the pen. The live observations were carried out just before tail scoring on each observation day until the outbreak. The video results showed more hanging/tucked tails in T-pens than in C-pens on each recording day (P < 0.001). In T-pens more tails were hanging on day -1 (33.2%) than on day -2 (24.8%) and day -3 (23.1%). Further, the number of tail damaged pigs on day 0 was correlated with tail posture on day -1, with more tails hanging in pens with 6–8 and >8 tail damaged pigs than in pens with 4–5 tail damaged pigs (P < 0.001). Live observations of tail posture in T-pens also showed a higher prevalence of hanging tails on day 0 (30.0%; P < 0.05) than on day -3/-2 (17.2%), -5/-4 (15.4%) and -7/-6 (13.0%). No differences in any of the recorded behaviours were observed between T-pens and C-pens. In conclusion, lowered tails seem to be a promising and practical measure to detect damaging tail biting behaviour on pen level even when using live observations. However, there were no changes in activity, eating, exploration or tail-directed behaviours prior to a tail biting outbreak.

Herbs and enrichment may benefit pig welfare

Influence of enrichment material and herbal compounds in the behaviour and performance of growing pigs. By Nicolau Casal-Plana, Xavier Manteca, Antoni Dalmau, Emma Fàbrega , 2018. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 195: 38-43.


• Environmental enrichment and herbal compounds can reduce stress in growing pigs.

• Environmental enrichment reduced stereotypies and redirected behaviour.

• Environmental enrichment increased exploratory behaviour.

• Herbal compounds reduced the negative interactions and body lesions.

• Environmental enrichment and herbal compounds increased the body weight.

Abstract Pigs reared in barren conditions are exposed to many different stressors, compromising their welfare and producing physiological and behavioural changes. The aim of this study was to assess the effect of environmental enrichment (EE) consisting of natural hemp ropes, sawdust, rubber balls, and a herbal compound (HC) of Valeriana officinalis and Passiflora incarnata on the behaviour and performance of growing pigs. Fifty-six pigs were used to assess four different treatments divided in two pens of seven animals per treatment (14 pigs/treatment). The treatments tested were: (a) pigs reared with EE, (b) pigs supplemented with HC, (c) pigs provided with both EE and HC, and (d) control group (CG, neither EE nor HC). Body weight and lesions were measured before starting the experiments (week 15) and at 18, 20, 22 and 24 weeks of age. Weekly instantaneous scan and continuous focal sampling were used to record behavioural patterns of activity, social interactions and abnormal behaviours. Three novel tests were carried out at 16, 19 and 23 weeks of age. Body weight at the end of the experiment was found to be significantly lower for the pigs reared in the control group compared to the other treatments (p = 0.0009). Furthermore, pigs reared with EE presented less stereotypies (p = 0.016) and redirected behaviour (0.0188), but more exploratory behaviour (p = 0.008). However, pigs supplemented with HC presented less social interactions (p = 0.048), a trend to present less negative social behaviour (p = 0.09) and less skin lesions (P = 0.0433) than pigs not supplemented. Finally, no remarkable differences were reported in any of the three novel tests. Thus, both EE and HC positively influenced some animal welfare indicators and performance of growing pigs in the present experiment.

3D cameras can detect lowered tail posture before an outbreak of tail biting in pigs

Automatic early warning of tail biting in pigs: 3D cameras can detect lowered tail posture before an outbreak. By Richard B. D’Eath, Mhairi Jack, Agnieszka Futro, Darren Talbot, Qiming Zhu, David Barclay, Emma M. Baxter. 2018. PlosOne.


Tail biting is a major welfare and economic problem for indoor pig producers worldwide. Low tail posture is an early warning sign which could reduce tail biting unpredictability. Taking a precision livestock farming approach, we used Time-of-flight 3D cameras, processing data with machine vision algorithms, to automate the measurement of pig tail posture. Validation of the 3D algorithm found an accuracy of 73.9% at detecting low vs. not low tails (Sensitivity 88.4%, Specificity 66.8%). Twenty-three groups of 29 pigs per group were reared with intact (not docked) tails under typical commercial conditions over 8 batches. 15 groups had tail biting outbreaks, following which enrichment was added to pens and biters and/or victims were removed and treated. 3D data from outbreak groups showed the proportion of low tail detections increased pre-outbreak and declined post-outbreak. Pre-outbreak, the increase in low tails occurred at an increasing rate over time, and the proportion of low tails was higher one week pre-outbreak (-1) than 2 weeks pre-outbreak (-2). Within each batch, an outbreak and a non-outbreak control group were identified. Outbreak groups had more 3D low tail detections in weeks -1, +1 and +2 than their matched controls. Comparing 3D tail posture and tail injury scoring data, a greater proportion of low tails was associated with more injured pigs. Low tails might indicate more than just tail biting as tail posture varied between groups and over time and the proportion of low tails increased when pigs were moved to a new pen. Our findings demonstrate the potential for a 3D machine vision system to automate tail posture detection and provide early warning of tail biting on farm.

Wood is a potentially suitable enrichment material for pigs

Use of different wood types as environmental enrichment to manage tail biting in docked pigs in a commercial fully-slatted system. By Jen-Yun Chou, Rick B. D’Eath, Dale A. Sandercock, Natalie Waran, Amy Haigh, Keelin O’Driscoll. 2018. Livestock Science 213: 19-27.


• Spruce was consumed more quickly than other wood types.

• Pigs interacted with spruce more frequently than other wood types.

• No time effect was found on wood use.

• Replacement rate rather than cost may be a practical concern.


Provision of adequate environmental enrichment on pig farms is a legal requirement under current EU legislation and also alleviates the risk of tail biting. Wood is an organic alternative where loose bedding, which has been identified as the optimal enrichment, is not possible on fully-slatted floors since it may disrupt the slurry system. The study compared four different wood types (beech (Fagus sylvatica), larch (Larix decidua), spruce (Picea sitchensis), and Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.)) as enrichment, taking into account the qualities of the wood, economic considerations, and effectiveness at reducing damaging behaviours and lesions. A total of 800 tail docked finisher pigs on an Irish commercial farm were used. Eight pens were provided with each wood type (25 pigs/pen), and the study was conducted over 2 replicates in time. In each pen a single wooden post was presented to the pigs in a metal dispenser with two lateral chains during the finisher period (12–22 weeks of age). The rate of wear, moisture content, and hardness of the wood along with lesion scorings and behavioural observation on pigs were monitored. Spruce was consumed more quickly than other wood types in terms of weight loss and reduction in length (P < 0.001), resulting in a greater cost per pig. Pigs were observed interacting with the spruce more frequently than the other wood types (P < 0.05). Pigs also interacted with the wood more often than the chains in spruce allocated pens (P < 0.001). Overall the interaction with wood posts did not decline significantly across time. However, there was no difference in the frequency of harmful behaviours (tail/ear/flank-biting) observed between wood types, and also no difference in the effectiveness of the different types of wood in reducing tail or ear damage. There was a positive correlation between ear lesion and tear-staining scores (rp= 0.286, P < 0.01), and between tail lesion and tail posture scores (rp= 0.206, P < 0.05). Wood types did not affect visceral condemnation obtained in the slaughterhouse. Wood is a potentially suitable enrichment material, yet the wood species could influence its attractiveness to pigs.

Enrichment may be joyful and reduce stress in young pigs

Pre-weaning environmental enrichment increases piglets’ object play behaviour on a large scale commercial pig farm. By Chung-Hsuan Yang, Heng-Lun Ko, Laura C. Salazar, Lourdes Llonch, Xavier Manteca, Irene Camerlink, Pol Llonch, 2018. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 202: 7-12 Environmental enrichment is a legal requirement for European pig farms. The suitability of enrichment materials for neonatal pigs is understudied and has not been tested in commercial settings. This study investigates the effect of hanging objects and substrate as two enrichment strategies pre-weaning, and compares the effect of these enrichment objects on play behaviour, aggression, growth and stress coping ability during lactation until 10 days after weaning. Farrowing crates were equipped with either six hanging objects (OB), a substrate box with wood bark (SUB), or nothing (control; CON). The behaviour of over 600 piglets (∼210 piglets/treatment) was recorded weekly by instantaneous scan sampling (10 s/piglet, repeated 6 times per day for 6 days). Aggression was monitored through skin lesions on focal piglets on 1 day before weaning and 1 and 2 days after weaning. Piglets were weighed individually every week. Stress coping ability was assessed through salivary cortisol from a sample of six piglets per litter on 1 day before (baseline), and on days 1 and 2 after weaning. Both enrichment groups showed more object play during lactation as compared to the control group (P < 0.001). The amount of object play increased linearly with age (P < 0.001). Enrichment did not affect social play or locomotor play during lactation. Enrichment did not influence the amount of skin lesions before weaning, but heavier piglets had more skin lesions (P < 0.01). The enrichment strategies had no influence on weight gain at any stage. The baseline of the salivary cortisol concentration was similar amongst the treatment groups; however, the cortisol concentration of the object group and control group was significantly higher at one day after weaning than at baseline (P < 0.001) whereas the substrate group showed no significant increase. In conclusion, providing either hanging objects or substrate alone could encourage neonatal piglets to express more object play behaviour. Compared to the hanging objects, providing substrate in the commercial neonatal environment demonstrated to decrease piglets’ stress at weaning, and therefore increase animal welfare.

Tail biting causes acute phase response and inflammation in pig tails

Tail biting induces a strong acute phase response and tail-end inflammation in finishing pigs. By Heinonen M, Orro T, Kokkonen T, Munsterhjelm C, Peltoniemi O, Valros A., 2010. Vet J. 184:303-7.


The extent of inflammation associated with tail biting in finishing pigs was evaluated. Tail histopathology, carcass condemnation and the concentration of three acute phase proteins (APPs), C-reactive protein (CRP), serum amyloid-A (SAA) and haptoglobin (Hp), were examined in 12 tail-bitten and 13 control pigs. The median concentrations of APPs were higher (P<0.01) in bitten (CRP 617.5mg/L, range 80.5-969.9; SAA 128.0mg/L, 6.2-774.4; Hp 2.8g/L, 1.6-3.5) than in control pigs (CRP 65.7mg/L, 28.4-180.4; SAA 6.2mg/L, 6.2-21.4; Hp 1.2g/L, 0.9-1.5). There was a tendency for APP concentrations to rise with the histopathological score but the differences were only statistically significant between some of the scores. Five (42%) bitten cases and one (8%) control pig had partial carcass condemnations owing to abscesses (P=0.07). The results show that tail biting induces an inflammatory response in the tail end leading to an acute phase response and formation of carcass abscesses.

Simple enrichment block may improve pig welfare

Enrichment in the Sucker and Weaner Phase Altered the Performance of Pigs in Three Behavioural Tests. By Cameron Ralph, Michelle Hebart and Greg M. Croninm 2018. Animals 8: 74.


We tested the hypothesis that provision of enrichment in the form of enrichment blocks during the sucker and weaner phases would affect the behaviour of pigs. We measured the performance of pigs in an open field/novel object test, a maze test, an executive function test and the cortisol response of the pigs after exposure to an open field test. The provision of enrichment blocks altered the behaviour of the pigs in all three tests and these changes suggest an increased willingness to explore and possibly an increased ability to learn. The behavioural tests highlighted that young pigs have the capacity to learn complex tasks. Our findings support the notion that the benefits of enrichment cannot be evaluated by measuring the interactions the animal has with the enrichments in the home pen and it may simply be beneficial to live in a more complex environment. We have highlighted that the early rearing environment is important and that the management and husbandry at an early age can have long-term implications for pigs. The enrichment we used in this study was very simple, an enrichment block, and we provide evidence suggesting the provision of enrichment effected pig behavioural responses. Even the simplest of enrichments may have benefits for the welfare and development of young pigs and there is merit in developing enrichment devices that are suitable for use in pig production.

Toys and tail docking may reduce stress from mixing of pigs after weaning

Teeth clipping, tail docking and toy enrichment affect physiological indicators, behaviour and lesions of weaned pigs after re-location and mixing. By Fu, Lingling, Zhou, Bo, Li, Huizhi, Allan P. Schinckel, Liang, Tingting, Chu, Qingpo, Li, Yuan, Xu, Feilong, 2018. Livestock Science 212: 137-142.


• Re-location and mixing after weaning brought stress to weaned pigs.

• Toy enrichment decreased the stress of mixing after weaning.

• Pigs with intact teeth and tail got more lesions after mixing.

• Weaner pigs with intact teeth and tail should avoid to be mixed after weaning.

Abstract Re-location and mixing after weaning increase the risk of aggression in weaned pigs. To quantify the effects of tail docking, teeth clipping and toy enrichment on the growth performances, behaviour, lesions, and physiological indicators of weaned pigs after re-location and mixing, a total of 262 weaned pigs from four pig processing treatments were selected and regrouped to two enrichment treatments within each processing treatment. The experimental newborn piglets from 24 litters were treated tail docking and teeth clipping at 3 d of age and weaned at 24 d of age. At 30 d of age, pigs in each treatment were weighed, re-located to a nursery room and mixed into 2 pens. Eight rubber toys were installed in one of two pens in each group. The behaviour of weaned pigs was recorded and observed at 1, 2 and 3 d after mixing. At 3 and 6 d before mixing and 1, 3 and 6 d after mixing, lesions on the body and tail, body surface temperature (BST), respiration rate (RR) and salivary cortisol concentrations were determined. At 85 d of age, all experimental pigs were weighed again. Mortality rate, average daily gain (ADG), and feed efficiency of pigs were recorded. Pigs with clipped teeth performed less negative social behaviour (aggressive attacks/fight) (P < 0.05) and more positive social behaviour (non-aggressive social interactions) (P < 0.01) than pigs with intact teeth. Pigs with docked tails performed more positive social behaviour (P < 0.01) than pigs with intact tails. Toy enrichment decreased (P < 0.05) lesions on the ear and front body of pigs, and pigs with docked tail got fewer lesions on the tail (P < 0.01). Intact teeth increased (P < 0.01) RR, while toy enrichment decreased (P < 0.05) RR of pigs. Teeth clipping, tail docking and toys had no effects (P > 0.05) on ADG, body weight and mortality rate of pigs from 30 to 85 d of age. These results indicate that toy enrichment and pig processing treatments have positive effects on weaned pigs after re-location and mixing.