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.
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.
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)).
Bracke, M.B.M. 2016. Enrichment materials for intensively-farmed pigs – From review to preview (Conference abstract, ICPD 2016). In: Kemp, B. Et al., 2016. 16th International Conference on Production Diseases in Farm Animals. June 20-23, 2016. Wageningen, NL. The presentation can be found here.
Bracke, M.B.M. In press. Chains as proper enrichment for intensively-farmed pigs? In: Spinka, M. Advances in Pig Welfare. Elsevier. Reporting on the work done in the FareWellDock poject (forthcoming, expected June 2017).
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.
Despite a long history of debate about negative affective states in animals, it was only in the last decades of the 20th century that the state of pain was mentioned in definitions of animal welfare, included in veterinary education, and became a target of scientific interest. Pain is a perceptional phenomenon built from information gathered by specialized sensory receptors for tissue damage and integrated into a discrete experience with a negative emotional valence in the brain. Based on knowledge about porcine neuroanatomy, physiology, and studies focusing on pig behavior and pathology, we review evidence for causes of pain in pigs, underlying biological mechanisms, as well as the possibility to quantify different types of indicators of pain states relevant to the welfare of the animals under production conditions. The presentation will primarily focus on pigs because of the dual purpose of this species as a meat producing as well as research animal species (the latter driven by the anatomical and physiological homologies with humans), making pigs unique among livestock. We will present methodologies and results from current research projects across Europe and North America targeting typical industry-related injuries (e.g., tail docking, lameness, and shoulder lesions) and aiming to understand the welfare consequences for the pigs. Throughout the talk, the emphasis will be put on future opportunities to link research outcomes with industry initiatives toward the improvement of animal welfare and production. In addition, possible future research efforts to help face current methodological limitations and favor a more comprehensive evaluation of animal pain as an overall experience will be discussed. This seeks to facilitate common future targeted research and enable us to overcome the paradoxical low level of knowledge about porcine pain and its alleviation under production conditions.
Tail docking of pigs is under scrutiny due to concerns about animal welfare. To reevaluate the consequences of raising pigs without tail docking under modern, commercial-like conditions, a study was conducted to compare welfare, behavior, and performance of pigs with and without tail docking. Pigs farrowed to 37 sows were used with half of each litter tail-docked (docked) after birth and remaining pigs left with tails intact (intact). During the nursery period, pigs (n = 336, initial wt = 7.8 ± 1.5 kg) were housed in 20 docked pens and 22 intact pens (8 pigs/pen). During the growing-finishing period, pigs (n = 240, initial wt = 24.9 ± 2.9 kg) were housed in 8 pens (4 pens each of docked and intact, 30 pigs/pen) for 16 wk (avg final wt = 126.2 ± 10.3 kg). Weight gain and feed intake were recorded. All pigs were assessed for tail damage and skin lesions every 4 wk and during outbreaks of tail biting. Behaviors were video-recorded twice weekly for 13 wk during the growing-finishing period. Carcass weights and incidence of carcass trim loss were recorded. More intact pigs experienced tail damage during both nursery (41% vs. 2%; chi-square = 75.7; P < 0.0001) and growing-finishing (89% vs. 48%; chi-square = 76.2; P < 0.0001) periods than docked pigs. Intact pigs spent more time tail biting (0.31% vs. 0.06%; P < 0.001) and tended to spend less time drinking (1.58 vs. 1.77%; P < 0.10) compared to docked pigs. Intact pigs experienced the first outbreak of tail biting at 11 wk of age, which occurred 6 wk earlier compared to docked pigs. Furthermore, 21% of intact pigs vs. 5% (P < 0.001) of docked pigs were removed due to tail damage. Tail docking did not affect ADG (nursery: 0.48 vs. 0.49 kg, SE = 0.04; growing-finishing: 0.86 vs. 0.87 kg, SE = 0.01 for docked and intact pigs, respectively) or skin lesions of pigs. For pigs that were not removed, ADFI was not different between pens with docked pigs and pens with intact pigs. As a consequence of carcass trim loss, carcass contamination, and mortality, 90% of intact pigs vs. 97% of docked pigs were harvested for full value. These data suggest that raising pigs without tail docking in a confinement housing system increases incidence of tail biting and tail damage, resulting in higher morbidity, reduced value, and compromised welfare of pigs.
Tail docking is an undesirable mutilation of pigs. Currently virtually all young piglets are docked in conventional farming so as to prevent tail biting later in life. However, throughout Europe efforts are made to reduce tail docking. Often farmers provide additional enrichment to try and prevent tail biting. Nevertheless, stopping the practice of tail docking may, and frequently does, lead to elevated levels of tail biting, resulting in tail wounds. In relation to this farmers and policy makers would like to know what levels of tail biting would be equivalent to tail docking in terms of pig welfare, i.e. how much tail biting can be allowed before deciding it would be better to continue tail docking. But this poses the problem how to weigh the (lack of) welfare involved in tail biting of a grower or finishing pig against the pain of tail docking of young piglets. Is this possible? And if so, how?
We recently had a brainstorm session on this subject. This is an outline of what we came up with, including a very tentative personal estimate (by MB).
In my personal view when (in the end up to) about 12% of undocked pigs were tail bitten that would be roughly equivalent in welfare to the docking of all piglets. The uncertainty margin, however, is high, at least ranging from 5-25%. The reasoning underlying my estimate is as follows.
Firstly, piglets are normally docked using hot iron cautery. This is quite painful as it involves applying both heat and rather blunt trauma. The heat kills bacteria and thus may reduce the chance of subsequent infection of the tail wound. Tail biting at a later age, by contrast, is caused by even more (and multiple) blunt trauma (due to biting). It also has a substantially higher likelihood of infection. In addition, there is e.g. fear in the tail bitten pig due to being chased by a biter. Based on this I would say that pain (and stress directly related to tail biting) may roughly be about ten times as high in intensity and about ten times as long in duration, compared to tail docking. This would imply that 1 tail-bitten pig is off-set by about 100 docked piglets as regards the intensity and duration of the pain involved.
However, animal welfare encompasses more than just pain. An important additional factor is the level of stress which is not directly related to tail biting activity.
Firstly, there may be stress related to the treatment of tail biting, e.g. when biters and/or victims are taken out of the pen (resulting in social isolation and/or fighting). This stressor, however, is partly offset by the enhanced enrichment normally provided to pigs experiencing an outbreak of tail biting (though not all pigs are equally affected by the ‘costs’ and ‘benefits’). Note that there is another, more macabre, offset involving ‘happiness’ too, and that is the excitement experienced by the (sometimes fanatic) biter pigs when a tail-biting outbreak has started. Note also, that this biter ‘welfare’ is at the same time an indicator of the level of (background) stress experienced by pigs leading to this abnormal behaviour in the first place.
A much more important source of stress that must be taken into account, therefore, is related to the general housing conditions to which the pigs are exposed prior to a tail biting outbreak. Tail biting is an unnatural behaviour that is triggered by (some kind of) stress. Pig farmers are aware of this and will try and prevent tail biting by generally improving the housing conditions when they (start to) raise pigs with intact (undocked) tails. Thus the expected level of stress to which the pigs are exposed is likely to be higher in the case of routine tail docking. When farmers stop tail docking they normally provide much better enrichment (rooting material & space). Farmers raising pigs with intact tails will also take other measures to reduce stress, e.g. provide better climatic conditions, better feed and better health care. These stress-reducing measures don’t just apply to the biters or the victims of tail biting. They apply to all pigs in the pen. Furthermore, they don’t just apply during an outbreak of tail biting, but they apply throughout the pigs’ lives. Hence, the reduced stress levels are a major factor reducing the off-set between docking and tail biting based exclusively on pain (and pain-related fear). I would estimate that the improved living conditions may reduce the off-set by at least a factor 10. This would mean that taking into account both pain and stress, 100(%) docked pigs (kept with minimal care and in a more barren environment) could be roughly equivalent to similarly-sized group of pigs with intact tails under enriched conditions and in which 10% of the pigs has been tail bitten.
Tail biting in docked pigs
However, we know that tail biting does not only occur in undocked pigs. It is also seen in docked pigs. Roughly 2% of docked pigs are tail bitten. It seems safe to assume that the level of pain from being tail bitten is roughly comparable in docked pigs and in undocked pigs (though docked tails may be more sensitive and thus less likely to get bitten). Taking this into account would imply that 100 docked pigs of which 2% also experiences tail biting later in life would be having a level of (poor) welfare comparable to 100 undocked pigs of which 12% gets tail bitten. This is about 6 times as much tail biting as the 2% base-line set under conventional docking conditions.
It must be emphasised again, however, that this level of 12% tail biting is a very rough estimate. So, a wide safety-margin applies, e.g. 5-25%. This may depend in particular on the quality of enrichment and the extra care provided under non-docking conditions.
Please note, that this post is the result of a brainstorm session only and presents a personal view. It illustrates how systematic reasoning (using principles of semantic modelling) can be used to start to answer this rather important welfare question. I have provided a very rough estimate. For a more accurate assessment more detailed studies would certainly be required, both in terms of more carefully including what is already known and in terms of accumulating more empirical knowledge about what is not known yet. At present the assessment is still very speculative, and meant to illustrate primarily how to in principle deal with the question of what level of tail biting is equivalent to a practice of routine tail docking.
Postscript: Excluded aspects and some feedback from readers
Note that, in my estimate I neglected several (minor) aspects.
Firstly, I neglected the fact that for tail docking piglets must be picked up. This results in stress, both in the mother sow and in the piglets. From an evolutionary perspective the procedure of catching piglets may be equivalent to experiencing capture by a predator. This would mean that the given estimate would be a moderate underestimation. However, tail docking may be performed in combination with other treatments such as iron injection and castration. If so, the additional stress from handling may be relatively minor. Note, however, that castration applies only to males and may be banned in the near future, and iron injection may be given orally as a kind of ingestible compost, or as has recently been shown, may not be necessary at all. Hence, combining such treatments with tail docking has a reducing likelihood.
Secondly, I assumed that teeth cutting will not be practiced to treat an outbreak of tail biting, neither in the docked pigs, nor in the undocked pigs. Or, more precisely, at least I assumed teeth cutting is not practiced in substantially different numbers of pig. Such teeth cutting is painful and illegal, so it could be considered appropriate to ignore the practice. However, if it were practiced more in undocked pigs (which are likely to experience higher levels of tail biting), then it would have a substantial impact on the level of equivalence, pushing the percentage back down again substantially.
A third point to note is that I did not include in the estimate other ethical considerations or our (anthropomorphic) emotional responses. An example of the latter may be related to the amount of blood seen in the pen, the farmer’s level of stress (unpredictability) associated to this, and the potentially adverse economic consequences associated with tail biting. An example of other ethical considerations is the fact that tail docking may be considered to be an infringement of the animals’ integrity or intrinsic value. In such a rights-based moral view tail docking may be considered ethically wrong, regardless of the level of tail biting when tail docking is stopped. Such aspects were excluded because these are aspects not directly related to animal welfare. They are more related to our human perception of ethics and/or human welfare, rather than animal welfare.
Finally, it is most important to emphasise that I have considered steady-state conditions, but realize that all practices are subject to optimisation. The practice of tail docking has already been optimised for over a period of at least 50 year. By contrast, the practice of raising pigs with intact tails still more or less has to enter the phase of optimisation in commercial practice. This implies that substantially higher levels of tail biting may be regarded as acceptable, provided this is only temporary and provided it leads to substantially lower levels of tail biting later on. In other words, it requires that farmers will persist in raising pigs with intact tails and have a chance to learn to deal with it over a certain transition period, both in terms of prevention and treatment of tail-biting outbreaks.
Feedback reader 1:
Regarding the painfulness of tail biting vs tail docking, I find it impossible to guess the relation – especially as tail biting comes in so many forms.
I absolutely agree that a weighing like this is necessary, but I also think it is a bit dangerous to throw out estimates that are not really based on any evidence (or at least you do not present any?), such as the 100 times worse pain experienced by bitten pigs than docked pigs. Also, tail biting is very heterogeneous, from just a small, one-time bite, to a chronic situation, where the entire tail is lost, so the way you estimate the pain simplifies the matter greatly.
As to the expected level of actual tail biting when docking is stopped: I estimate a two-fold increase in tail biting if no docking is performed. Perhaps somewhere between 2- and 4-fold, based on e.g. slaughterhouse data. There may be a 4-fold increase when the housing situation is not improved otherwise – which you also take into account in your text – when applying a non-docking policy the farmer would normally also improve housing conditions, thus reducing the risk further. I certainly agree that when a farm stops docking, they will probably have a higher incidence of tail biting initially, but on the long-term (as is shown e.g. in Finland where tail docking is totally forbidden, and the tail-biting incidence, based on abattoir data is around 2%), a 10 or 12% incidence is certainly higher than I would expect.
Feedback reader 2:
Having read your blog I think you need to factor in adaptive, compensatory pain modulation into your model.
It is sometimes too easy to fail to take into account post-injury peripheral and central modulation of pain signalling that occur as part of the normal healing process and only focus on the ‘pro-pain’ component.
I also don’t see how you can substantiate this claim?
‘Based on this I would say that the pain of tail biting may be about ten times as high and about ten times as long, compared to tail docking. This would imply that 1 tail-bitten pig is off-set by about 100 docked piglets as regards the intensity and duration of the pain involved’.
While I think it might be possible to attribute weighting to some risk factors within systems, I don’t think it can be applied to pain experienced by an individual (or even at group level as you are suggesting) because there are so many factors that contribute to an individual’s experience of pain? I don’t think you can quantify the painfulness of tail biting and tail docking.
Also when thinking about stress you might want to define what you mean by that in relation to chronicity?
Short-term compensatory responses to stress are in my view positive for the animal; however beyond that when there is a failure of compensation and ultimately homeostatic decompensation then they are undoubtedly negative.
I guess I’m suggesting that any weighting approach might need to accommodate (or factor in) changes over time (i.e. dynamic weighting?)
I hope you find my comments helpful?
As to substantiation, again, it’s my suggestion for a start of an argument to answer this in my view fairly important question. My answer is based on my personal experience as a vet and scientist, and on reasons indicated in the blog. It is certainly in need of further study, examination and assessment. I fully acknowledge the considerable level of uncertainty as well as the risk associated with trying to answer the question. At the same time, however, I would also argue that there is a considerable risk in refusing to try to answer the question, as this leaves the issue to stakeholders.
Feedback reader 3:
Joining the discussion rather late, but basically I agree with the points others have made. I think it quite reasonable to conceptually set out the trade-offs which would determine the level of tail biting above which tail docking could be ethically justified, but putting numbers on some of these things is rather difficult.
For risk of tail biting in docked and undocked pigs we have a growing number of published sources and comparative national data.
For experimental comparisons we have old data suggesting increases of 30-60% in pigs in unbedded systems.
More recently we have studies suggesting somewhat lower results if straw is given.
So this part is perhaps simple, but depends on your assumptions about which husbandry systems will pertain across Europe.
For the welfare detriment of tail docking and tail biting, data indicate that both have long lasting effects on pain processing pathways, but the implications of this for pain perception for the individual are uncertain.
For tail docking, the data I have seen are still contradictory on whether cautery is more or less painful than simple section (some suggest the cautery destroys the nerves whilst others suggest greater pain). There is also the possibility of tail docking with anaesthesia/analgesia as a route of adoption.
For tail biting, the short term pain will certainly depend on the severity and, even more, on the prevalence of infection. The data on this are currently lacking to my knowledge.
The welfare impairment of keeping in conditions which give rise to tail biting is clearly the greatest of all in magnitude (severity x duration x no of animals) but I don’t think we have any way of comparing the welfare severity of ‘behavioural frustration’ against that of injury/pain. I would be concerned about taking arbitrary figures in the absence of any logical basis.
So, I guess my suggestion would be to explore the framework for this decision, but be very wary about pretending we can quantify it.
I also think the issue not addressed in your blog is the time course of any transition to cessation of tail docking and how to manage this. What proportion of farmers would have the awareness, capital and staff training to implement the changes necessary to their existing housing if obliged to cease tail docking (some older, fully slatted and large group housing systems will pose much bigger challenges and possibly require replacement of buildings), and how long would it take across Europe to reach the ‘acceptable’ situation of relatively low differential in tail-biting prevalence between docked and intact tails, rather than the ‘unacceptable’ differential shown for “one off” change in tail-docking experiments (stopping docking without further improvement of the environmental conditions). I think it important to highlight that your analysis relates to a ‘steady state’ situation and the importance of how any transition is managed and the welfare implications which this will have.
Note that I have not been comparing docking versus non-docking in a mono-factorial way. I compared docking in a more barren environment versus not docking in a more enriched environment supplemented with special attention by the farmer, as that is what will normally happen in practice. I have now emphasised this more clearly in the text.
I largely agree that we currently largely lack the data needed to quantify more precisely. However, I also believe that in principle it is possible to do so, and that the estimate/assessment can be more or less verified empirically (as the body of knowledge accumulates and modelling principles are improved). Personally, I am inclined to try and quantify despite considerable uncertainty, because it provides a better starting point for further discussion. In addition, such preliminary but more science-based estimates are much needed to complement the inevitably politically-loaded figures and personal assessments presented by farmer-representatives and NGO’s arguing either (rather exclusively) against or in favour of ending tail docking as a routine practice to prevent tail biting.
An important point I’ve been trying to make is that pain is not the only relevant aspect of welfare involved in tail docking and tail biting, and that the levels of enrichment and care should also be taken into account. I don’t think it is even possible to honestly say it is not possible to ‘add’ these aspects, since proper political decision making (in all kinds of areas, not just tail biting) simply does and has to, whether it is considered scientifically possible or not. And if so, I would argue it is most reasonable to try and provide the best possible scientific support, while being as honest as possible e.g. about uncertainty margins and the relevance of incorporating more information. I also think the estimate provides broad support to ‘farewell-dock’ initiatives such as those in Finland, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, the UK and Germany.
• Sows made contact with rope more frequently than rubber sticks or fixed woodblock.
• At any given time, more sows made contact with rope than the rubber or woodblock.
• Rope preference observed during day and night for two weeks.
• No difference in the lesion severity among the treatment pens.
Increased public concern about farm animal welfare is driving both legislative initiatives and market forces to change how sows are housed and managed. This study investigated the use and preference for enrichment items at a 5600 sows commercial sow farm in eastern USA. Gestating sows were housed in static, pre-implantation groups of approximately 75 sows per pen and fed via a single electronic sow feeding station. Each pen contained one of three enrichment objects (OBJ): hanging rope, hanging rubber sticks, and a fixed wood block. Behavioral data was collected from 18 pens during the course of this study on days 1, 3, 5 and 14 (DAY) that sows were in the pen, and at specific times on each day (TIME). For daytime activity, data was collected on-site in three 2-h blocks between 0800 and 1000, 1100–1300 and 1400–1600 for each pen and for nighttime data was collected on Day 1 in three 1-h blocks between 2200 and 2300, 0000-0100 and 0200-0300. Behaviors recorded included proportion of observation time animals interacted with the object, proportion of animals in pen that interacted with the object, and posture (up/down) of each animal in the pen. Lesion scores were recorded prior to mixing and two weeks post-mixing as a proxy for social aggression. The median proportion of observation time that the sows were in contact with the rope (62.4%) was significantly greater than (P < 0.01) the median proportion observed in the rubber pens (31.5%) and significantly greater than (P < 0.01) the median proportion observed in the woodblock pens (24.3%). Mixed design ANOVAs indicated a significant interaction of OBJ and DAY (P < 0.01) and OBJ and TIME (P < 0.01) on the proportion of observation time that the sows were in contact with the enrichment objects. Post-hoc analyses using Bonferroni correction showed that on each observation day and time period, the proportion of observation time that the sows were in contact with the enrichment was significantly greater (P < 0.01) in rope pens than rubber or woodblock pens. These results indicate that sows can exhibit clear preferences for enrichment type, with the sows interacting with the rope significantly more often throughout the study, at each sampling hour. However, there were no significant differences in lesion severity or sow activity between the three enrichment types, suggesting that common behavioral patterns including the establishment of social hierarchy took precedence over the pursuit of available enrichment. Additional studies are needed to understand how preferences for enrichment objects could be utilized to potentially impact sow productivity and welfare.
Report identifies good practices for rearing pigs with intact tails
DG Health and Food Safety – European Commission
A new report provides evidence that there are solutions to counter the commonly held belief that rearing pigs and avoiding tail docking is impossible.
Based on visits to three countries where tail docking is not performed routinely, it summarises good practices to rear pigs with intact tails. It finds that the key to do so is to lower stress levels through active management of enrichment materials; feed and air quality; reduction of competition between animals; and good animal health status. Another key factor to ensure intact tails is that farmers rapidly identify tail biters and remove them to prevent the escalation of tail biting.
Tail biting constitutes a major welfare and health issue in commercial pig rearing, with significant negative economic consequences. Contrary to the aim of the EU directive (2001/93/EC), tail docking is still widely practiced in most EU countries as a measure to reduce the incidence of tail biting and concomitant pathologies. Mutilations are a general welfare concern in all species, and any efforts towards reducing the need for tail docking are important for the future sustainability of the EU pig sector. Sound policy making needs science-based risk assessment, including assessment of the severity of problems and effectiveness of solutions. The general objectives of the FareWellDock-project included estimation of the relative harms associated with tail docking and tail biting, and evaluation of the efficacy of some main preventive measures against tail biting, which could reduce the need for tail docking. The ultimate aim was to stimulate the development towards a non-docking policy in the EU.
The first objective of WP1 was to evaluate measures of acute and chronic pain in relation to tail damage. This included assessment of the short (acute trauma), medium (post trauma inflammation) and long term (traumatic neuroma formation) pain associated with tail docking in neonatal piglets, and the possible consequences for longer term fear of humans. In addition, the studies assessed the effects of tail-damage in more mature pigs to provide a basis for assessing the pain associated with being tail bitten in later life. Finally, studies were conducted to assess the effects of an NSAID analgesic on the short term responses to neonatal tail docking.
Experimental studies confirmed that piglets do experience pain when tail docked, and that pain relief treatment, such as meloxicam, can lessen but not abolish the physiological stress reaction to docking. Piglets which have been tail docked seem more fearful of people afterwards than undocked animals. In docked tails, no difference in pain sensitivity of the tail (as measured by behavioural withdrawal) is detected after 8 weeks, but changes in the functioning of the sensory nerves from the tail can still be measured after 4 months, which suggests that the possibility for longer term pain exists. When the tail is damaged later in life, as happens with tail biting, changes in both tail stump sensitivity and nerve functioning can last for at least 4 months, and possibly beyond.
WP2 focused on the role of manipulable material when reducing the need for tail docking. The aim was to develop and validate ways to assess if on-farm use of manipulable material is sufficient to reduce tail biting. Further, the aim was to describe suitable methods for implementing the use of straw under commercial farming conditions and to investigate, in on-farm conditions, the efficiency of tail docking vs. enrichment given in sufficient quantity to reduce the occurrence of tail lesions.
A screening method to assess the appropriateness of the level of enrichment on-farm was developed and includes scoring of the amount of unsoiled straw, the behaviour, and ear, tail and flank lesions of the pigs. AMI (animal-material interaction) sensors were used e.g. to show that pigs in biter pens were more interested in novel ropes than pigs in control pens, that environmental enrichment may reduce exploratory behaviour of point-source objects, and that sick pigs, experimentally infected with streptococcus spp, were less interested in chain manipulation. The sensors appear to be a promising tool to assess the use of manipulable material by pigs. In countries (SE and FI) where tail docking is not done, farmers report using on average of 30 to 50 g of straw/pig/ day, equivalent to about 0.5 L/pig/day. A survey in SE revealed fewer injurious tail biting outbreaks on farms using larger amounts of straw. Larger amounts of straw were mainly used on farms having scrapers in the slurry channels. A large experimental study showed that a moderate amount of straw (150 gr/pig/day) reduced injurious tail-biting outbreak in finisher pigs by more than 50%, while docking seemed to be more effective as it reduced tail biting by more than four-fold. The effect of both measures was additive, i.e. docking and straw reduced tail biting 9 fold. Further, it was shown that increasing the amount of straw from 10 to up to 400 gr/pig/day had multiple positive effects by progressively reducing the occurrence of tail injuries and stomach ulcers, increasing growth rate, increasing straw-directed behaviour, and reducing redirected behaviours towards other pigs.
In WP3 the aim was to clarify the role of poor health in the causation of tail biting and victimization, and the aim was study early identification of tail-biting outbreaks. In addition, the aim to develop automated systems for early warning of tail biting outbreaks.
The results of experimental and on-farm studies showed that the social behaviour of sick pigs differs from healthy pen mates, as pigs with osteochondrosis received more sniffing and tail bites from their pen mates than healthy pigs, while pigs with mild respiratory disease tended to bite more at the ears and tails of pen mates than healthy pigs did. In addition, studies of cytokines suggest that low-grade inflammation may decrease activity and increase receiving sniffs and attacks from other pigs. Studies on data sets from commercial pig farms indicated that changes in feeding behaviour may be an important sign of an increased risk for tail biting to occur: Future tail bitten individuals showed a reduced feed intake already 2-3 weeks before tail damage became evident. Furthermore, feeding behaviour in groups which develop tail biting may differ from non-biting groups for at least ten weeks prior to an injurious tail-biting outbreak. It was also shown that tail-chewing activity may start 2-3 weeks before tail damage can be seen. A detailed behavioural study of tail biting events revealed that there appears to be no such thing as a ‘typical’ tail-biting event and that the behaviour shown immediately before a tail-biting event does not differ from behaviour prior to another type of social interaction, namely ano-genital sniffing. Thus, it seems difficult to predict if a social event will escalate into tail biting or not. However, tail biting is more likely between pigs that have previously interacted. Data sets from several countries and studies indicated an association between tail-biting damage and tear staining, but the direction of this association is not clear.
In summary the project concluded on a set of practical recommendations, which have been published as part of four factsheets on the FareWellDock-webpage:
Avoid tail docking whenever possible because it definitely causes pain, induces long-term changes in sensory-nerve function and may impair the pigs’ confidence in humans.
Avoid tail biting, and hence the need for tail docking, by addressing risk factors on the farm.
Treat tail-bitten pigs promptly and consider pain relief.
To reduce injurious tail-biting outbreaks, use straw as it might be almost as effective as tail docking. For this purpose, the more straw the better.
To ensure that sufficient straw is allocated check that there is left-over straw before the next day’s allocation.
Keep your pigs healthy. This will be good both for productivity and also help avoid injurious tail-biting outbreaks.
If pigs show signs of illness, be more alert to tail biting risk.
Remove tail-bitten pigs promptly to avoid further damage and treat according to veterinary advice.
Pay special attention to groups of pigs where you see:
high or suddenly increased levels of general activity or exploration
tail manipulation or chewing
swinging or tucked tails
low or decreasing numbers of visits to an automatic feeder or reduced feed intake
Information on project activities and publications have been continuously published on the FareWellDock-webpage. To date, 16 scientific articles have been published, and 9 are in preparation. Communication to stakeholders has been active, both through the FareWellDock-webpage, including 97 blog posts, and by interviews in media in different countries, popular articles and presentations at producer seminars. In October 2016 the results were presented widely at the EU level to policy makers and other stakeholders at the ‘Meeting and Webinar on Actions to Prevent Tail biting and Reduce Tail docking of Pigs’, organized by the European Commission Directorate General for Health and Food Safety in Grange, Ireland.
Due to the positive experience of the cooperation a decision was made at the last project meeting in DK in October 2016 that we will continue our cooperation as the FareWellDock-network, also inviting further researchers and stakeholders to join. The first activity of the FWD-network will be to organise a satellite meeting at the Congress of the International Society for Applied Ethology in August 2017 in DK, and to launch an emailing list to make sure FWD-network members and other researchers keep updated on research progress and related topics.
The FareWellDock factsheets are out. Below you find the cover factsheet as well as the factsheets on tail docking, enrichment, health and the prediction of tail biting. This post shows images of the English versions, and links to the pdf version of the English factsheets, as well as all factsheets in Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, Italian, Norwegian and Swedish. Separate pages are available directly showing the factsheets in the other languages (Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, Italian, Norwegian and Swedish).