Early intervention with enrichment can prevent tail biting outbreaks in weaner pigs
Lahrmann et al. 2018. Livestock Science.
• Providing extra enrichment as an early intervention reduced tail biting outbreaks.
• Tail damage was observed among weaner pigs with intact tails in 58 of 60 pens.
• Solitary tail damage did occur without escalating into tail biting outbreaks.
Tail biting is a serious animal welfare problem in the modern pig production. A frequently studied preventive measure is enrichment materials, and increasing levels of enrichment materials, especially litter materials, reduces the risk of tail biting. However, permanent access to litter materials, can cause blockage of the slurry system and increase production cost. The aim of the present study was, therefore, to investigate if providing extra enrichment material, when observing the first tail damage could reduce the prevalence of tail biting outbreaks. The study included 1804 weaner pigs from 7 to 30 kg distributed in 60 pens with intact tails. As basic enrichment material, pens were equipped with two wooden sticks and daily provided with approximately 400 g of fine chopped straw. From outside the pen pigs were checked for tail damages three times weekly. When the first tail damage (fresh or scabbed) was recorded, the pen was assigned to one of four treatments; chopped straw (approximately 200 g/pen) on the floor (straw), haylage in a spherical cage (haylage), hanging rope with a sweet block (rope) or no extra material (control). From first treatment day and until a tail biting outbreak, tails were scored three times weekly. A tail biting outbreak occurred when four pigs in a pen had a tail damage, irrespective of wound freshness. The experiment was designed to compare the prevalence of tail biting outbreaks in each of the extra material group with the control group. A treatment was carried out in 44 of the 60 pens: 10 pens with straw, 8 pens with haylage, 7 pens with rope and 19 control pens. The risk of a tail biting outbreak was significantly lower in pens with haylage and straw compared with control pens (P < 0.05), and there tended to be fewer tail biting outbreaks in rope-pens compared with control pens (P = 0.08). The results should, though, be interpreted with caution due to the relatively small sample size. In control pens with no intervention, a tail biting outbreak developed in 42% of the pens within two to five days after the first tail damage was observed, whereas a tail biting outbreak did not occur in 32% of the control pens. In conclusion, a regular tail inspection and the use of extra enrichment material, when the first minor tail damage occur, could be one way to reduce the prevalence of tail biting outbreaks.