Category Archives: Enrichment

German research activities on tail biting

Information about current tail biting projects in Germany can be found in an excel sheet which can be downloaded here from the Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut (FLI) homepage.

The German tail biting projects have been summarised in the review “Tail docking in pigs – status quo in Germany”. If you are interested in this article please contact Sabine Dippel (sabine . dippel @ fli . de).

In order to improve knowledge exchange across borders, the FLI is looking for further information about tail and ear biting projects in other countries. If you are or have been involved in such projects, please download the excel list, enter your data on the sheet “other countries” and send the updated file to Christina Veit (Christina . veit @ fli . de). In the near future it is planned to set up a public online database into which information from the Excel list will be transferred.

One of the outcomes from German research activities about tail biting is a scoring key for pigs agreed on by the various people involved across Germany: the DSBS. The scoring key for tail and ear lesions including pictures can be downloaded here (see screenshot below).

Scoring key DSBS

Straw survey in Sweden (3 conference abstracts)

A survey of straw use and tail biting in Swedish undocked pig farms
ICPD 2016, 20-23 June 2016, Wageningen (oral presentation)
T. Wallgren, R. Westin, S. Gunnarsson
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Animal Environment and Health, Skara, Sweden

Abstract

Tail biting is a common problem in todays’ pig production, affecting production and welfare. As tail biting behaviour is more prominent in systems with no or limited access manipulable material, it has been considered related to exploratory behaviours. Tail docking, commonly used as tail biting prevention, is a painful procedure that can decrease pig welfare does not eliminate the tail biting behaviour. Although tail docking is not accepted as a routine procedure according to the EU Directive 2008/120/EC it is still a common practise within the EU, which is why other measures to reduce tail biting behaviour are needed. In Sweden, tail docking is banned and tail biting must be reduced otherwise. Furthermore, Swedish legislation banned fully slatted floors and demands pigs to have access to manipulable material. In order to investigate the prevalence of tail biting in Sweden and the relationship with provision of straw, we performed a telephone survey in nursery (n=46) and finishing pig (n=43) farms. Farmers were interviewed regarding straw usage (e.g. daily ratios) and tail biting (e.g. frequency). All participating farmers gave access to manipulable material and 98% used straw. The median straw ration reported by farmers was 29g/pig/day (min: 8g, max: 85g) in nursery and 50g/pig/day (9g, 225g) in finishing farms when excluding deep litter systems. Farmers reported having observed tail bitten pigs, at any time, in 50% of nursery and 88% of finishing pig farms. Of these, tail bitten pigs were reported to be found ≤2 times/year (78%), 3-6 times/year(17%) or monthly (4%) in nursery and ≤2 times/year (21%), 3-6 times/year (37%), monthly (34%) or weekly (8%) in finishing farms. Finishing farmers reported on average 1.6% tail bitten pigs/batch (0.1-6.5%), which is in line with abattoir data. Spearman rank correlation was used for statistical analysis. Increased straw ration was correlated with decreased reported tail biting frequency in finishing farms (r=-0.39, P=0.03, n=31), and a tendency for this was found in nursery farms (r=-0.33, P=0.08, n=29) when deep litter systems were included. In finishing farms, excluding deep litter systems, an increased tail biting frequency observed by farmers was correlated to the percentage of tail bitten pigs (r=0.64, P=<0.001, n=33), indicating that an increased frequency of tail biting reported may be associated with more pens affected at outbreaks. Even though provided straw rations were quite small (i.e. 30-50 g/pig/day), this amount of straw may provide pigs with enough occupation to limit tail biting outbreaks. We conclude that tail biting can be kept at a low level (ca 2%) in partly slatted flooring systems, without tail docking, by supplying straw.

Raising undocked pigs: straw, tail biting and management
ISAE 201612-15 July 2016 (poster presentation, see below)
Torun Wallgren, Rebecka Westin and Stefan Gunnarsson
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Animal Environment and Health, Skara, Sweden

Abstract

Tail biting in pigs is common in pig production and has been suggested correlated to several behaviours. It is associated with reduced welfare and production losses. A common practice to reduce tail biting within EU is tail docking where part of the tail is removed; a painful procedure that does not eliminate the behaviour. According to the EU Directive 2008/120/EC routine tail docking is banned and other measures to reduce tail biting must replace docking. An alternative is to improve the pig environment by using straw and thus decrease development of tail biting. Straw usage has been difficult to implement since it is argued that straw provision is incompatible with fully slatted floors. In Sweden, tail docking and fully slatted floors are completely banned through national legislation. Furthermore, it is a legal requirement that pigs should have access to manipulable material. The implementation of straw usage in Swedish farms was investigated in a telephone survey to study straw usage and farmers’ opinion on straw impact on tail biting and farm management. A total of 46 nursery and 43 finishing farmers were interviewed, all reporting providing pigs with enrichment material, most commonly straw (98%). Median straw rations provided in systems with partly slatted floor was 29 g/pig/day (8-85 g) in nursery and 50 g (9-225 g) in finishing farms. Straw was the only manipulable material in 50% of nursery and 65% of finishing farms while remaining farms used additional material, most commonly wood shavings (65%). ‘Toys’, e.g. balls and ropes, were used by 13% of nursery and 16% of finishing farmers as a supplement to other manipulable material. Of these, 62% only provided these ‘toys’ occasionally, e.g. at re-grouping or when tail biting had been observed. Problems in the manure handling systems caused by straw had occurred in 32% of the farms, of these 25% had problems at yearly and 7% monthly, or more seldom (58%). Tail biting had been observed in the production at least once by 50% of nursery and 88% of finishing farmers, an average of 1.6% finishing pigs were reported tail bitten per batch (0.1-6.5). Tail biting was observed ≤twice/year (78%) 3-6 times/yr (17%) and monthly (4%) by nursey and ≤2 times/yr (21%), 3-6 times/yr (37%), monthly (34%) and weekly (8%) by finishing farmers. The provided amounts of straw seem to be sufficient to keep tail biting at a low level in undocked pig herds (<2%/batch). The low incidence of straw obstruction in manure handling systems reported also implies that straw usage at this rate 30-50 g/pig/day) is manageable in pig production systems.

Production of undocked pigs, a survey of farmers’ experiences
EAAP Annual Meeting, 29 August – 2 September 2016, Belfast (oral presentation)
T. Wallgren, R. Westin, S. Gunnarsson
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Animal Environment and Health, Skara, Sweden

Abstract

Tail biting is a common cause for reduced welfare and production rates within commercial pig production and is more prominent in barren environments. Using enrichment as straw has been shown to reduce tail biting behavior and thus reduce need for tail docking. Implementation of straw in practice has however partly default since it is argued that straw will cause obstruction in the manure handling systems. Sweden has a long tradition of rearing undocked pigs with access to straw due to national legislation banning docking and fully slatted floors while demanding access to manipulable material for pigs. We surveyed 60 randomly selected Swedish nursery and finishing pig farmers’ usage of straw and their opinions on straw impact on tail biting and manure handling management. All farmers provided manipulable material, 98% straw. In 50% of nursery and 35% of finishing farms the straw was complemented with material such as wood shavings. Straw rations were 29g/pig/day (8-85g) in nursery and 50g (9-225g) in finishing farms. Straw was commonly chopped (76%) to a mean length of 6 cm (1-10) in nursery and 8 cm (1-20) in finishing farms. Straw causing problems in the manure handling system occurred in 32% of the farms who experienced this yearly (25%) or monthly (7%). Most common causes were straw making the slurry sluggish, stacked in pivot or blocking slats. The low incidences of problems indicate current systems are able to cope with presented straw rations. Tail biting had been seen at least one time ever in 50% of nursery and 88% of finishing farms. Frequency of observed tail biting was ≤twice/year (78%) 3-6 times/yr (17%) and monthly (4%) by nursey and ≤ 2 times/yr (21%), 3-6 times/yr (37%), monthly (34%) and weekly (8%) by finishing farmers. An average of 1.6 (0.1-6.5) finishing pigs were reported tail bitten each batch. In partly slatted flooring systems a correlation was found between increased tail biting frequency and percentage of reported tail bitten pigs (r=0.64, P= <0.0001, n=38) (Spearman Rank correlation). The limited tail biting problems indicate that straw usage at this level is enough to prevent major tail biting outbreaks in undocked pigs.

Poster straw survey Sweden

Online Training Improves Understanding of Pig Welfare Legislation

A recent research paper has reported a positive effect of an online training tool on participants’ understanding of taildocking and enrichment legislation, as well as risk factors for tail biting. The training tool was aimed at official inspectors and others involved in enforcement of legislative requirements on pig farms. The research was a collaboration of 15 researchers from 9 EU countries, led by the University of Bristol, UK. The online training tool is free to use and is available in 7 different languages: English, French, German, Polish, Italian, Spanish and Dutch. It can be accessed here:

Click this link to access the EUWelNet Training Tool on pig enrichment and tail docking.

Hothersall, B., Whistance, L., Zedlacher, H., Algers, B., Andersson, E., Bracke, M., Courboulay, V., Ferrari, P., Leeb, C., Mullan, S., Nowicki, J., Meunier-Salaun, M-C., Schwarz, T., Stadig, L. & Main, D. 2016 Standardising the assessment of environmental enrichment and tail-docking legal requirements for finishing pigs in Europe. Animal Welfare 25:499-509.

Abstract

An online training package providing a concise synthesis of the scientific data underpinning EU legislation on enrichment and taildocking of pigs was produced in seven languages, with the aim of improving consistency of professional judgements regarding legislation compliance on farms. In total, 158 participants who were official inspectors, certification scheme assessors and advisors from 16 EU countries completed an initial test and an online training package. Control group participants completed a second identical test before, and Training group participants after, viewing the training. In Section 1 of the test participants rated the importance of modifying environmental enrichment defined in nine scenarios from 1 (not important) to 10 (very important). Training significantly increased participants’ overall perception of the need for change. Participants then rated nine risk factors for tail-biting from 1 (no risk) to 10 (high risk). After training scores were better correlated with risk rankings already described by scientists. Scenarios relating to tail-docking and management were then described. Training significantly increased the proportion of respondents correctly identifying that a farm without tail lesions should stop tail-docking. Finally, participants rated the  importance of modifying enrichment in three further scenarios. Training increased ratings in all three. The pattern of results indicated that participants’ roles influenced scores but overall the training improved: i) recognition of enrichments that, by virtue of their type or use by pigs, may be insufficient to achieve legislation compliance; ii) knowledge on risk factors for tail-biting; and iii) recognition of when routine tail-docking was occurring.

EUWelNet Training Tool enrichment and tail docking

Note that the training tool is being used in Poland to train animal science students, farm assurance in the UK has shown recent interest in using the tool, and the Austrian pig health service is compiling a brochure based on EUWelNet on tail biting/enrichment material.

Enrichment devices for weaned pigs

Effects of different enrichment devices on some welfare indicators of post-weaned undocked piglets. By E. Nannoni, , , L. Sardi, M. Vitali, E. Trevisi, A. Ferrari, F. Barone, M.L. Bacci, S. Barbieri, G. Martelli. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci.

Abstract

Two experimental trials were carried out in order to test the effectiveness of different environmental enrichments in improving the welfare of weaned pigs. A total of 120 undocked piglets was used. In trial one, group C1 received a metal chain and group WL a wooden log mounted on a frame. In trial two, the enrichments proposed were a hanging chain (group C2), an edible block (group ED) and a wooden briquette (group WB) mounted on a frame. The effectiveness of the enrichments was assessed in terms of animal behaviour, cortisol from bristles, hematologic and hematic profiles, cutaneous (skin and tail) lesions. Growth parameters were also recorded. Although some differences were detected in growth parameters in trial 1 (with C1 group having better productive outcomes than WL group) and some minor differences were observed in animal behaviour in both trials, the overall welfare status did not differ among the experimental groups. On the other hand, no welfare issues emerged in groups C1 and C2, receiving the enrichment device which is generally believed to be scarcely attractive, i.e. the hanging chain. We can therefore conclude that, if no managerial errors are made (floor space availability, feed inadequacy, group stability, microclimate, illumination), under the tested experimental conditions, hanging chains can provide a sufficient environmental enrichment for undocked piglets, even when compared to more attractive enrichments (e.g. an edible block).

Highlights

• The effectiveness of different enrichments was tested on undocked weaners.
• Minor differences were observed in animal behaviour in both trials.
• Overall welfare status did not differ between the experimental groups.
• In controlled conditions none of the proposed enrichments improved piglets’ welfare.
• Under controlled conditions, all devices provided a similar enrichment level.

Investigating the effect of rooting substrate provision on the group lying behaviour of pigs using machine vision

Investigating the effect of rooting substrate provision on the group lying behaviour of pigs using machine vision. By: Abozar Nasirahmadi, Sandra A Edwards, Barbara Sturm,
Conference Paper · June 2016. Conference: CIGR-AgEng Conference, Aarhus, Denmark

Abstract

To deliver good animal welfare, pigs should have a hygienic and undisturbed lying area within the pen. However, the provision of a rooting material is desirable to meet behavioural needs and this can only be given onto solid floor away from the dunging area, which might disrupt the group lying pattern. To determine whether daily provision of a rooting material (maize silage) onto a solid plate in the lying area of a fully slatted pen resulted in changed lying location, the lying patterns of pigs in 6 enriched pens were compared with those of 6 control pens which had only a suspended enrichment toy. Since visual monitoring of pig behaviours over long periods is very time consuming, an image
processing technique was applied to identify any changes pig lying positions and behaviour. Pigs were monitored by top view CCTV cameras and animals were extracted from their background using image processing algorithms. The x–y coordinates of each binary image were used for ellipse fitting algorithms to localize each pig. In order to find the lying positions, ellipse parameters were calculated for all fitted ellipses. Each pen was virtually subdivided into four zones in images and the centroid of each fitted ellipse was used for finding the position of each lying pig at 10 minute intervals during their lying period, after use of an algorithm to remove images in motion preceding the scan. By means of the ellipse properties it was possible to automatically find and compare the
changes in lying position of pigs in the pens. Results showed that once daily provision of rooting material did significantly change lying behaviour.

Proper enrichment for intensively-farmed pigs – From review to preview

Bracke, M.B.M. 2016. Enrichment materials for intensively-farmed pigs – From review to preview (Conference abstract & presentation, ICPD 2016). In: Kemp, B. et al., 2016. 16th International Conference on Production Diseases in Farm Animals. June 20-23, 2016. Wageningen, NL. p. 179.

Abstract

Tail biting is a well-known production disease in intensively-farmed pigs raising concern for animal welfare, e.g. related to the practice of routine tail docking. To reduce tail biting pigs are provided with enrichment materials. EU legislation requires that pigs have permanent access to a sufficient quantity of material to enable proper investigation and manipulation activities. In order to meet this directive many pigs are provided with a metal chain with or without a rather indestructible object attached to the chain. The European commission recently revised current guidelines as to what constitutes adequate enrichment, apparently moving into the direction of the status-quo in welfare schemes. Building on extensive previous work at Wageningen UR Livestock Research, especially on the modelling of pig enrichment (the so-called RICHPIG model) a review is presented of our current state of knowledge. In addition, an outline is given as to how so-called AMI-sensors, measuring Animal-Material Interactions (AMI) (semi-)automatically, can be used to assess the pig’s need for enrichment, also in relation to aspects associated with health status, such as feed restriction, biting wounds and streptococcus infection. It is suggested that the use of chains with or without rather indestructible materials such as pipes, balls or (hard)wood is generally inadequate to enrich the pens of intensively-farmed pigs. An evolutionary mechanism appears to be underlying the causation of multifactorial welfare problems in general, the issues of enrichment, tail biting and tail docking in pigs in particular. In this respect ongoing selection for increased resource efficiency has been exerting a profound impact on livestock production. Various routes are explored as to how persistent welfare problems may be resolved, including a method that has been called Intelligent Natural Design (IND).

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. By contrast, to improve the chain further 7mm stainless-steel anchor chains may be recommended for growing pigs over the cheaper c-chain shown here, as anchor chains have heavier and more rounded shackles.

See also an older previous presentation on tail biting.

Bracke, M.B.M, Wolthuis, M., Zonderland, J. J., Kluivers, M., 2011. TAILS TO TELL – Tail docking, tail biting and enrichment for pigs – Experiences from the Netherlands. Herning, DK, May 25-26, 2011.

Improving Welfare, Health and Productivity in Pigs by Optimizing Adaptation

Improving Welfare, Health and Productivity in Pigs by Optimizing Adaptation
By J.E. Bolhuis and B. Kemp, 2016. Journal of Animal Science (conference paper, March 14-16, 2016, Des Moines, USA).

Abstract

Welfare problems in pigs often arise from an imbalance between the challenges they are exposed to and their adaptive capacity. A major challenge for pigs is the weaning transition. Weaning often results in reduced growth, intestinal problems and damaging behaviors. The natural behavior of pigs and their adaptive strategies can inspire us to reduce weaning-related problems. We found that early ingestion of feed can be stimulated by facilitating information transfer from sow to piglet, both through flavor learning in utero and social learning. This early feeding, in turn, seems vital for a good post-weaning performance. Also enrichment substrates that stimulate early sampling of feed positively affect piglet performance around weaning. We are developing a multi-litter group housing system for lactating sows and their piglets in which both opportunities for sow-piglet information transfer and enrichment substrates are provided. Piglets raised in this system and kept in large groups post-weaning show improved performance until at least 9 weeks of age. Measures that facilitate the weaning transition in pigs typically also reduce the occurrence of damaging behaviors directed at pen mates, such as tail biting and ear biting. These behaviors both reflect and generate welfare problems, and are influenced by multiple factors. Apart from the impact of early life conditions, we studied the contribution of (genetic) characteristics of pigs and of their environment to the tendency of displaying damaging behaviors. Tail biting seems associated with fearfulness, serotonin metabolism and with (genetic and phenotypic) production characteristics. Excessive levels of damaging behaviors lead to reduced growth in the victims, and we therefore investigated the impact of a novel breeding strategy, targeting indirect genetic effects on growth. Pigs with high indirect genetic effects on growth inflicted less tail damage and showed less ear biting. They also seemed less fearful and showed lower leukocyte, lymphocyte and haptoglobin levels. Enrichment with straw bedding had similar beneficial effects additive to those of the new genetic strategy. On most farms it is, however, not feasible to provide pigs with straw, and we therefore studied the effectiveness of a simple enrichment material – a burlap sack – and found a twofold reduction in damaging behaviours and a five-fold reduction in the proportion of animals with a tail wound. In conclusion, – small and large – changes in genetic background, early life conditions and quality of the environment that contribute to the adaptive capacity of pigs, and reduce their stress load, can be used to improve pig welfare and performance in concert.

Impact of straw on gastric ulceration in pigs

Impact of the amount of straw provided to pigs kept in intensive production conditions on the occurrence and severity of gastric ulceration at slaughter.
Herskin MS, Jensen HE, Jespersen A, Forkman B, Jensen MB, Canibe N, Pedersen LJ. 2016. Res Vet Sci. 104: 200-6.

Abstract

This study examined effects of the amount of straw offered on occurrence and severity of gastric lesions in pigs kept in pens (18 pigs, 0.7m(2)/pig) with partly slatted flooring and 10, 500 or 1000g straw/pig/day from 30kg live weight. The pigs had ad libitum access to dry feed. Forty-five pigs were used, three from each of 15 pens. After euthanisia, the dimension of the non-glandular region of the stomach was measured. Lesions were characterized and scored. Irrespective of straw provided, 67% of the pigs showed signs of gastric pathology. Pigs provided with 500 or 1000g straw were pooled as ‘permanent access’. The proportion of pigs with ulcerations was reduced by permanent access to straw (7 vs. 33%; P<0.05), suggesting that permanent access to straw may improve animal health, and be considered as one possible strategy to limit gastric ulceration in pigs.

500gr straw/pig/day
500gr straw/pig/day
10gr straw/pig/day
10gr straw/pig/day

European commission initiative to reduce tail docking and improve enrichment

March 2016 the European Commission takes another step to reduce tail docking and improve enrichment for pigs as part of its animal welfare strategy.

Here are some relevant phrases from the announcement made on the Commission’s website:

The welfare of pigs is assured by Council Directive 2008/120/EC.

It applies to all categories of pig and lays down minimum standards for their protection:

  • Providing permanent access to …. materials for rooting and playing

COMMISSION RECOMMENDATION (EU) 2016/336 of 8 March 2016 on the application of Council Directive 2008/120/EC laying down minimum standards for the protection of pigs as regards measures to reduce the need for tail-docking.

STAFF WORKING DOCUMENTpdf(706 kB) on best practices with a view to the prevention of routine tail-docking and the provision of enrichment materials to pigs [SWD(2016)49 final] Following the adoption of the Commission Recommendation (EU) 2016/336 as regards measures to reduce the need for tail-docking, the staff working document provides useful tools to a harmonised understanding on how the provision of manipulable material and avoidance of tail-docking can be practically achieved.

The working document recognises that proper enrichment is important to help prevent tail biting, and hence the need for tail docking.

Specified as unsafe are synthetic ropes, tyres, dry wood, dry sawdust, poorly stored straw, untreated peat/mushroom compost and dirty objects.

Furthermore proper enrichment should have one or more of the following qualities:

  • Edible or feed-like (to eat or smell)
  • Chewable (to bite)
  • Investigable (to root)
  • Manipulable (to change its location, appearance or
    structure)

Provision should be

  • of sustainable interest
  • accessible
  • of sufficient quantity
  • clean
MATERIALS OF MARGINAL INTEREST
Materials of marginal interest should not be used as essential or single component of pig
enrichment materials. They can provide distraction but should not be considered as
fulfiling the essential needs of the pigs. Other materials should also be provided.
Materials of marginal interest include objects, such as hard plastic piping or chains.
Marginal materials may supplement suboptimal materials like stones or strawdust briquette.

Can tail damage outbreaks in the pig be predicted by behavioural change?

Vestbjerg Larsen, M.L., Andersen, H.M-L, Pedersen, L.J. 2016. Can tail damage outbreaks in the pig be predicted by behavioural change? The Veterinary Journal 209: 50-56.

Abstract

Tail biting, resulting in outbreaks of tail damage in pigs, is a multifactorial welfare and economic problem which is usually partly prevented through tail docking. According to European Union legislation, tail docking is not allowed on a routine basis; thus there is a need for alternative preventive methods. One strategy is the surveillance of the pigs’ behaviour for known preceding indicators of tail damage, which makes it possible to predict a tail damage outbreak and prevent it in proper time. This review discusses the existing literature on behavioural changes observed prior to a tail damage outbreak. Behaviours found to change prior to an outbreak include increased activity level, increased performance of enrichment object manipulation, and a changed proportion of tail posture with more tails between the legs. Monitoring these types of behaviours is also discussed for the purpose of developing an automatic warning system for tail damage outbreaks, with activity level showing promising results for being monitored automatically. Encouraging results have been found so far for the development of an automatic warning system; however, there is a need for further investigation and development, starting with the description of the temporal development of the predictive behaviour in relation to tail damage outbreaks.

Tail postures
Tail postures
Pigs resting on straw
Pigs resting on straw

See also the related editorial:

Zonderland, J.J. and Zonderland, M.A., 2016. Behavioural change by pig producers is the key factor in raising pigs with intact tails (Editorial). The Veterinary Journal.