All posts by Marc

Rearing Pigs with Intact Tails—Experiences and Practical Solutions in Sweden

Wallgren, T., Lundeheim, N., Wallenbeck, A, Westin, R. and Gunnarsson, S. 2019. Rearing pigs with intact tails- experiences and practical solutions in Sweden. Animals 2019, 9, 812; doi:10.3390/ani9100812 https://www.mdpi.com/2076-2615/9/10/812

Abstract

Tail biting is a common issue within commercial pig production. It is mainly an indicator of inadequate housing environment and results in reduced health welfare and production. To reduce the impact of tail biting, pigs are commonly tail docked, without pain relief, within the first week of life. EU Council Directive 2008/120/EC prohibits routine tail docking, but the practice is still widely used in many Member States. Sweden has banned tail docking since 1988 and all pigs have intact tails, yet tail biting is a minor problem. This paper summarises and synthesises experimental findings and practical expertise in production of undocked pigs in Sweden and describes solutions to facilitate a transition to producing pigs with intact tails within intensive pig production in the EU. Swedish pig housing conditions and management differ in many aspects from those in other EU Member States. Swedish experiences show that lower stocking density, provision of sufficient feeding space, no fully slatted flooring, strict maximum levels for noxious gases and regular provision of litter material are crucial for success when rearing pigs with intact tails. To prevent tail biting and to eliminate the need for tail docking, we strongly recommend that EU legislation should more clearly match the biological needs of pigs, as is done in Swedish legislation.

Tail docking in pigs is an amputation causing sustained transcriptomic expression changes in the spinal cord indicative of inflammation and neuropathic pain

Transcriptomics Analysis of Porcine Caudal Dorsal Root Ganglia in Tail Amputated Pigs Shows Long-Term Effects on Many Pain-Associated Genes
By Dale A. Sandercock, Mark W. Barnett, Jennifer E. Coe, Alison C. Downing,
Ajit J. Nirmal, Pierpaolo Di Giminiani, Sandra A. Edwards and Tom C. Freeman.  Frontiers in Veterinary Science, September 2019 | Volume 6 | Article 314.

Abstract

Tail amputation by tail docking or as an extreme consequence of tail biting in commercial pig production potentially has serious implications for animal welfare. Tail amputation causes peripheral nerve injury that might be associated with lasting chronic pain. The aim of this study was to investigate the short- and long-term effects of tail amputation in pigs on caudal DRG gene expression at different stages of development, particularly in relation to genes associated with nociception and pain. Microarrays were used to analyse whole DRG transcriptomes from tail amputated and sham-treated pigs 1, 8, and 16 weeks following tail treatment at either 3 or 63 days of age (8 pigs/treatment/age/time after treatment; n = 96). Tail amputation induced marked changes in gene expression (up and down) compared to sham-treated intact controls for all treatment ages and time points after tail treatment. Sustained changes in gene expression in tail amputated pigs were still evident 4 months after tail injury. Gene correlation network analysis revealed two co-expression clusters associated with amputation: Cluster A (759 down-regulated) and Cluster B (273 up-regulated) genes. Gene ontology (GO) enrichment analysis identified 124 genes in Cluster A and 61 genes in Cluster B associated with both “inflammatory pain” and “neuropathic pain.” In Cluster A, gene family members of ion channels e.g., voltage-gated potassium channels (VGPC) and receptors e.g., GABA receptors, were significantly down-regulated compared to shams, both of which are linked to increased peripheral nerve excitability after axotomy. Up-regulated gene families in Cluster B were linked to transcriptional regulation, inflammation, tissue remodeling, and regulatory neuropeptide activity. These findings, demonstrate that tail amputation causes sustained transcriptomic expression changes in caudal DRG cells involved in inflammatory and neuropathic pain pathways.

PhD live stream: A tale of tails – prevention of tail biting in pigs by early detection and straw management. Torun Wallgren. Friday 20-9-2019, 09.15u, Sweden

Dissertation: Friday 20 September 2019, 09.15 in Audhumbla, VHC, SLU Ultuna

Torun Wallgren defends her thesis “A tale of tails – prevention of tail biting in pigs by early detection and straw management”. View the live stream / recording

Torun Wallgren: A tale of tails – Prevention of tail biting by early detection and straw management

Opponent /external evaluator: Professor Nicole Kemper, Institute for Animal Hygiene, University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover, Germany

Examination board:

Professor Andrew Michael Janczak, Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU), Oslo, Norway

Agr. Dr. Anne-Charlotte Olsson, Inst för Biosystem och Teknologi, SLU Alnarp

Professor Lotta Rydhmer, Professor, Inst för Husdjursgenetik (HGEN), SLU Ultuna

Professor Linda Keeling, Institutionen för husdjurens miljö och hälsa (HMH), SLU Ultuna (reserv).

Supervisor:

Docent Stefan Gunnarsson, HMH, SLU Skara

Assisting supervisors:

Nils Lundeheim, Professor, HGEN, SLU Ultuna

Rebecka Westin, VMD, HMH, SLU Skara

Abstract

Pigs in their natural environment spend the majority of their time exploring their surroundings through rooting, sniffing and chewing to find food and resting places. Rooting under commercial conditions is often fully dependent on the provision of rooting material. Lack of rooting opportunity may redirect the exploratory behaviour and cause tail biting, an abnormal behaviour that causes acute, long- and short-term pain. Tail biting is a common issue in modern pig production, reducing health, profitability and animal welfare. To fulfil pigs’ explorative needs, the Council Directive 2008/120/EC states that pigs should have permanent access to a sufficient amount of material, such as straw, to enable proper investigation and manipulation activities.

However, instead of improving pig environment to reduce tail biting, >90% of pigs in the EU are tail docked despite the prohibition of routine docking. Docked pigs have a less attractive and more sensitive tail tip and are less willing to allow biting. Docking aims at reducing the symptoms of tail biting rather than eliminating the cause. One argument for not increasing exploration through e.g. straw provision is fear of poor hygiene.

The overall aim of this thesis was to investigate the effect of straw on tail lesions, behaviour and hygiene (Studies I and II) as well as investigating tail position as a method for early detection of tail biting (Study III) in commercial production. Study I showed that 99% of Swedish farmers provide their pigs with straw (mediangrowers: 29 gram/pig/day; medianfinishers: 50 gram/pig/day). The amount of tail biting recorded at the abattoir was on average 1.7%. Study II showed that an increased straw ration decreased presence of tail wounds and initiated more straw-directed behaviour. Straw had little effect on hygiene. Study III showed that tail posture (hanging or curled) at feeding correctly classified 78% of the pigs with tail wounds. Less severe tail damage, e.g. swelling or bite marks, did not affect the tail posture.

The main conclusions are that increased straw reduces tail damage as well as pen-directed behaviours. Instead, straw increases straw-directed behaviours, while not affecting pig and pen hygiene negatively. Hence, it should be possible to rear pigs with intact tails without the use of tail docking in the EU.

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Effect of intermittent draught on behaviour of weaned pigs

Scheepens, C.J.M., M.J.C. Hessing, E. Laarakker, W.G.P. Schouten, M.J.M. Tielen. 1991. Influences of intermittent daily draught on the behaviour of weaned pigs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 31: 69-82.

Abstract

The influence of time-unpredictable and uncontrollable draught (forced cold air) on the behaviour of pigs was observed in a climate-controlled pig house with two identical rooms each with five pens. Two days after farrowing, pigs were matched pairwise to correct for genetic, weight and sex differences, and weaned at an average age of 35 days. From then on, the pigs in the experimental room were submitted to draught in a time-unpredictable way. Days with time-unpredictable draught were followed by days without draught.

Behavioural studies started on Day 35 and ended on Day 75 of the experiment. The total activity of the pigs was higher during draught (P<0.005). Explorative behaviour was four times higher during draught periods than during non-draught periods. Redirected explorative behaviour on penmates, including earbiting, occurred more during draught periods (P<0.05). Agonistic behaviour increased strongly during draught periods (P<0.005); headknocks with biting as an excessive form of aggression occurred only during these periods.

Even in periods without draught, pigs in the experimental room had a sternum: recumbent lying ratio which was higher that that of pigs in the control room and lay in contact with penmates more than did pigs in the control room. Unpredictable and uncontrollable draught as a climatic stressor had enormous effects on the behaviour of pigs; redirected explorative behaviour on penmates and excessive aggression could be detrimental for health and the performance of pigs.

See also:

Scheepens CJ, Hessing MJ, Hensen EJ, Henricks PA., 1994. Effect of climatic stress on the immunological reactivity of weaned pigs. Vet Q. 16 :137-43.

Did European pig-welfare legislation reduce pig welfare? Perhaps not, but experts confirm that common indestructible materials are not proper enrichment for pigs at all, except perhaps for an enhanced novel branched-chains design.

Published as:
Marc B.M. Bracke and Paul Koene, 2019. Expert opinion on metal chains and other indestructible objects as proper enrichment for intensively-farmed pigs. PLOS ONE. Available at http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0212610.

EC Directive 2001/93 requires that all pigs have access to proper investigation and manipulation materials. Intensively farmed pigs in Europe are frequently provided with a short/bare metal chain with or without an indestructible object attached to the chain. To date authorities are regarding this as proper enrichment. However, it has become increasingly clear that the chains do not provide proper enrichment, and that adding an indestructible object such as a ball, pipe or hard wood to the end of the chain may even reduce pig welfare. To test this hypothesis an expert survey was conducted. In total 36 international experts, mostly pig-welfare scientists, responded to the survey.

The experts only marginally agreed with the hypothesis (agreement score 4.6 on average on a scale from 0-10). However, indestructible materials generally received very low scores for welfare, indicating they did not provide proper enrichment. Ranked from low to high average welfare score, the objects were grouped in 5 significance levels:

Level 5 (totally insufficient): Chain hanging too high (for most of the smallest pigs in the pen; average score 1.3 on a scale from 0 to 10 where 5.5 would be ‘acceptable’)

Level 4 (extremely insufficient): Short chain (3.1), Small ball (2.8) and Big ball (average 2.5)

Level 3: (very insufficient) Pipe (3.5) and Bare chain (3.3)

Level 2-3 (very/rather insufficient): Hard wood (3.7)

Level 2 (rather insufficient): Chain on the floor (average: 4.4)

Level 1 (almost sufficient): Branched chains (5.1)

Compared to the marginal enrichment provided before the EC Directive 2001/93 was implemented in 2007 (in the Netherlands generally a short/bare chain, scoring 3.1 and 3.3 respectively, i.e. Level 3-4), adding balls or pipe , as commonly done in The Netherlands and Germany, does not improve pig welfare. Hard wood, as practised esp. in the UK, is a most marginal improvement (only 0.4 higher on average than Bare chain). Chain on the floor scored a bit better (4.4), without being acceptable (set at 5.5). The ‘new’ Branched chains scored significantly better than all other indestructible materials and its welfare score (5.1 on average) was close to the pre-defined level of acceptability (5.5 on a scale from 0, worst, to 10, best). The welfare benefits of adding balls, pipes or hard wood to the metal chain were marginal, and well below what the experts considered acceptable enrichment. The branched-chains design, by contrast, appears to be the most viable alternative. It involves providing a longer chain, i.e. with the free end reaching to floor level, adding ‘branches’, i.e. several short chains ending at the nose height of the pigs, and providing more chains per pen (i.e. 1 branched chain per 5 pigs). Therefore, the implementation of current pig-enrichment legislation needs revision. Branched chains should be implemented widely (across the globe) and in the short term as a first step towards, and benchmark for, providing proper enrichment to intensively-farmed pigs.

See also the related publication and posts on this website:

Chains as enrichment for pigs (Book chapter with supplement)
Pig animation – Improved, branched chain design as proper enrichment for pigs
Branched chains as enrichment for pigs (technical description, pictures and video)
Proper enrichment for intensively-farmed pigs – From review to preview
A collection of pictures of other enrichment materials for pigs can be found here: Prize contest (Prijsvraag) 2011.
Do pigs play with chains? Science versus society

Original abstract of the PLOS ONE paper:

Marc B.M. Bracke and Paul Koene, 2019. Expert opinion on metal chains and other indestructible objects as proper enrichment for intensively-farmed pigs. PLOS ONE. Available at http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0212610.

Abstract

EC Directive 2001/93 requires that all pigs have access to proper investigation and manipulation materials. Intensively farmed pigs in Europe are frequently provided with a short metal chain with or without an indestructible object attached to the chain. To date authorities are regarding this as proper enrichment, perhaps with (in)direct reference to the RICHPIG model as a justification. However, it has become increasingly clear that the chains do not provide proper enrichment, and that adding an indestructible object to the end of the chain may even reduce rather than improve pig welfare. To test this hypothesis an expert survey was conducted containing 26 more or less compound questions. On a scale from 0 to 10 experts specified their level of agreement with the hypothesis, the prevalence and welfare scores of nine indestructible enrichment materials. In total 36 experts, mostly pig-welfare scientists, responded (response rate: 39%). Indestructible objects are less prevalent in countries that provide straw (like Sweden and the UK) and outside the EU (US). They are more prevalent in the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Finland, while the prevalence seems to be low in Spain. Balls, wood and pipes were provided most frequently: hard wood especially in the UK (as specified in farm assurance); indestructible balls and pipes in Germany and the Netherlands. The experts’ score for agreement with the hypothesis was only 4.6 on average (scale 0-10; n=25). Enrichment materials, ranked from high to low welfare score, were grouped in 5 significance levels as indicated by different superscripts based on Wilcoxon signed rank tests: Branched chains (5.1a), Chain on the floor (4.4b), Hard wood (3.7bc), Pipe (3.5c), Bare chain (3.3c), Short chain (3.1d), Small ball (2.8d), Big ball (2.5d), and Chain hanging too high (1.3e). Branched chains scored significantly better than all other indestructible materials and its welfare score (5.1 on average) was close to the pre-defined level of acceptability (5.5 on a scale from 0, worst, to 10, best). The welfare benefits of adding balls, pipes or hard wood to the metal chain were marginal, and well below what the experts considered acceptable enrichment. The branched-chains design, by contrast, appears to be the most viable alternative. It involves providing a longer chain, i.e. with the free end reaching to floor level, adding ‘branches’, i.e. several short chains ending at the nose height of the pigs, and providing more chains per pen (i.e. 1 branched chain per 5 pigs). Branched chains should be implemented widely and in the short term as a first step towards, and benchmark for, providing proper enrichment to intensively-farmed pigs.


Branched chain
Two organic pigs interacting simultaneously with a branched chain in the snow. Despite access to a straw bed for rooting, even organic pigs may interact with such chains for long periods of time, esp. directed towards the floor. In fact they will root the chain on the floor more than twice as much as playing with it in a horizontal position. In intensive pig production chains are often (too) short, and when a hockey-type ball or ‘sustainable’ plastic pipe is attached to the end of such a chain the pigs’ interest, and their welfare, is often even reduced further.
Two pigs playing simultaneously with a preferred anchor-type branched chain design.

This post was published originally on the personal website of the first author (see here).

Dealing with tail biting in pigs with intact tails

PigProgress – Early indicators for tail biting in pigs Should pigs in the EU keep the end of their tails, or should tails be docked in the 1st days of the pigs’ lives to reduce risk of tail biting? The subject is widely discussed which also underlines that there is no easy answer. However, there is work in progress and so are some very promising results, writes pig welfare expert Vivi Aarestrup Moustsen. Read more in Pig Progress

Providing enrichment materials enhances play in sows around regrouping

Provision Point-Source Materials Stimulates Play in Sows but Does Not Affect Aggression at Regrouping

By Emma Catharine Greenwood, William H. E. J. Van Wettere, Jessica Rayner, Paul E. Hughes and Kate J. Plush, 2019. Animals 2019, 9(1), 8;

Abstract

When sows are mixed into groups, hierarchies form and resulting aggression and stress can affect production and welfare. This study determined the effect of providing point-source materials on aggressive and play behaviors in gestating sows. Large white cross Landrace sows were mixed after insemination; six pens of 12 sows were housed in ‘standard’ pens, and six pens of 12 sows were housed in ‘enhanced’ pens. The ‘enhanced’ pens each contained two rubber mats, eight strands of 24 mm-thick sisal rope and two yellow plastic disks, suspended from the roof. The sows remained in these pens until pregnancy confirmation. Salivary cortisol concentration, injury counts, and sow behaviors were recorded the day before mixing (day 1), mixing (day 0) and post-mixing day 1, day 4, day 7 and day 20. At farrowing, reproductive outcomes were obtained. Play was observed (including locomotor and object play) in the ‘enhanced’ pen, and percentage of time spent playing was greater on d4 (1.48 ± 0.3 Square root transformed data (2.84% non-transformed adjusted mean)), d7 (1.43 ± 0.3 (2.97%)) and d20 (1.64 ± 0.3 (3.84%)), compared to d0 (0.56 ± 0.3 (0.70%)) and d1 (0.87 ± 0.3 (1.67%) (p < 0.05)). No play was observed in standard housing. Aggression, salivary free cortisol concentrations and injuries were unaffected (p > 0.05). The provision of materials had no impact on aggression, although their presence maintained sow interest and play behavior, suggesting a positive effect.

Tail posture as an indicator of tail biting in undocked pigs

Tail posture as an indicator of tail biting in undocked finishing pigs

By Torun Wallgren, Anne Larsen and Stefan Gunnarsson, 2019. Animals 210: 26-37. Special Issue Environmental Enrichment of Pigs.

Simple Summary

Tail biting is a large welfare problem in modern pig production, causing pain and reduced health and production. The identification of tail biting is important for minimising the risk of the escalation of the behaviour and its consequences. Tail posture (i.e., tail hanging or curled) has been suggested to depend on the presence of tail wounds and, therefore, has been suggested as an indicator of tail biting. This study investigated the relationship between tail position and tail damages at feeding, since that could be a feasible time for producers to detect tail posture. The experiment showed that 94% of the pigs had curly tails and that pigs with wounds were more likely to have hanging tails than pigs with nondamaged tails. By observing the tail position at feeding, we were able to identify pigs with tail wounds in 68% of cases simply by scoring pigs with hanging tails. To conclude, the scoring of pigs with hanging tails at feeding was found to be a useful tool for identifying tail damages, which may otherwise be difficult to detect by the caretaker.

Abstract

Tail posture (i.e., hanging or curled) has been suggested to be an indicator of tail biting, and hanging tails predisposed to damage. The aim of this study was to investigate if tail posture was feasible as a tail damage indicator in a commercial setting. The study was carried out on one batch of 459 undocked finishing pigs (30–120 kg in weight). Weekly scoring of tail posture was combined with the scoring of tail lesions. Tail posture was observed at feeding to facilitate the usage of the method in commercial settings. A curly tail was observed in 94% of the observations. Pigs with tails scored with “wound” were 4.15 (p < 0.0001) times more likely to have hanging tails, and pigs scored with “inflamed wounds” were 14.24 (p < 0.0001) times more likely to have hanging tails, compared to pigs with nondamaged tails. Tail posture correctly classified tails with “wound” or “inflamed wound” 67.5% of the time, with 55.2% sensitivity and 79.7% specificity, respectively. The method of observing the tail position at feeding seems useful as a complement to normal inspection for detecting tail biting before tail wounds are visible to the caretaker.

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.

Highlights

• 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.

Abstract

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.