Category Archives: Health

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.

Herbs and enrichment may benefit pig welfare

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


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

• Environmental enrichment reduced stereotypies and redirected behaviour.

• Environmental enrichment increased exploratory behaviour.

• Herbal compounds reduced the negative interactions and body lesions.

• Environmental enrichment and herbal compounds increased the body weight.

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

Tail biting causes acute phase response and inflammation in pig tails

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


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

New book: Advances in Pig Welfare

New book: Advances in Pig Welfare
1st Edition
Editors: Marek Špinka
Hardcover ISBN: 9780081010129
Imprint: Woodhead Publishing (Elsevier)
Published Date: 10th November 2017
Page Count: 506

Table of Contents

Part One: Pig Welfare Hotspots
1. Overview of commercial pig production systems and their main welfare challenges* – Lene Juul Pedersen
2. Sow welfare in the farrowing crate and alternatives*
3. Piglet mortality and morbidity: inevitable or unacceptable?*
4. Lifetime consequences of the early physical and social environment of piglets* – Helena Telkänranta, Sandra Edwards
5. Tail biting* – Anna Valros
6. Manipulable materials* – Marc Bracke
7. Mitigating hunger in pregnant sows*
8. Aggression in group housed sows and fattening pigs
9. Handling and transport of pigs
10. Slaughter of pigs

Part Two: Pig Welfare Emerging Topics
11. The pain-sensitive pig* – Mette S Herskin, Pierpaolo Di Giminiani
12. On-farm and post-mortem pig health status assessment
13. Pig-human interactions: Pig-human interactions: creating a positive perception of humans to ensure pig welfare*
14. Breeding for pig welfare; opportunities and challenges*
15. Positive pig welfare
16. Pigs as laboratory animals* – Jeremy Marchant-Forde, Mette S. Herskin

Chapters marked with * have (co-)authors involved in FareWellDock. Chapters with stated authors only have FareWellDock partners as (co-)authors.


Advances in Pig Welfare analyzes current topical issues in the key areas of pig welfare assessment and improvement. With coverage of both recent developments and reviews of historical welfare issues, the volume provides a comprehensive survey of the field.
The book is divided into two sections. Part One opens with an overview of main welfare challenges in commercial pig production systems and then reviews pig welfare hot spots from birth to slaughter. Part Two highlights emerging topics in pig welfare, such as pain and health assessment, early socialization and environmental enrichment, pig-human interactions, breeding for welfare, positive pig welfare and pigs as laboratory animals.
This book is an essential part of the wider ranging series Advances in Farm Animal Welfare, with coverage of cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry.
With its expert editor and international team of contributors, Advances in Pig Welfare is a key reference tool for welfare research scientists and students, veterinarians involved in welfare assessment, and indeed anyone with a professional interest in the welfare of pig. View less >

Key Features
•Provides in-depth reviews of emerging topics, research, and applications in pig welfare
•Analyzes on-farm assessment of pig welfare, an extremely important marker for the monitoring of real welfare impacts of any changes in husbandry systems
•Edited by a leader in the field of pig welfare, with contributing experts from veterinary science, welfare academia, and practitioners in industry

Animal Welfare research scientists, Postgraduate students, Policy makers and stakeholders, R&D managers

The book may be ordered here.

Reducing crude protein levels in pig diets to increase protein efficiency may also increase damaging behaviours, esp. under conditions of poor sanitation

A link between damaging behaviour in pigs, sanitary conditions, and dietary protein and amino acid supply
By Yvonne van der Meer, Walter J. J. Gerrits, Alfons J. M. Jansman, Bas Kemp, J. Elizabeth Bolhuis. PLOS, Published: May 8, 2017


The tendency to reduce crude protein (CP) levels in pig diets to increase protein efficiency may increase the occurrence of damaging behaviours such as ear and tail biting, particularly for pigs kept under suboptimal health conditions. We studied, in a 2×2×2 factorial design, 576 tail-docked growing-finishing entire male pigs in 64 pens, subjected to low (LSC) vs. high sanitary conditions (HSC), and fed a normal CP (NP) vs. a low CP diet (LP, 80% of NP) ad libitum, with a basal amino acid (AA) profile or supplemented AA profile with extra threonine, tryptophan and methionine. The HSC pigs were vaccinated in the first nine weeks of life and received antibiotics at arrival at experimental farm at ten weeks, after which they were kept in a disinfected part of the farm with a strict hygiene protocol. The LSC pigs were kept on the same farm in non-disinfected pens to which manure from another pig farm was introduced fortnightly. At 15, 18, and 24 weeks of age, prevalence of tail and ear damage and of tail and ear wounds was scored. At 20 and 23 weeks of age, frequencies of biting behaviour and aggression were scored for 10×10 min per pen per week. The prevalence of ear damage during the finisher phase (47 vs. 32% of pigs, P < 0.0001) and the frequency of ear biting (1.3 vs. 1.2 times per hour, P = 0.03) were increased in LSC compared with HSC pigs. This effect on ear biting was diet dependent, however, the supplemented AA profile reduced ear biting only in LSC pigs by 18% (SC × AA profile, P < 0.01). The prevalence of tail wounds was lower for pigs in LSC (13 ± 0.02) than for pigs in HSC (0.22 ± 0.03) in the grower phase (P < 0.007). Regardless of AA profile or sanitary status, LP pigs showed more ear biting (+20%, P < 0.05), tail biting (+25%, P < 0.10), belly nosing (+152%, P < 0.01), other oral manipulation directed at pen mates (+13%, P < 0.05), and aggression (+30%, P < 0.01) than NP pigs, with no effect on ear or tail damage. In conclusion, both low sanitary conditions and a reduction of dietary protein increase the occurrence of damaging behaviours in pigs and therefore may negatively impact pig welfare. Attention should be paid to the impact of dietary nutrient composition on pig behaviour and welfare, particularly when pigs are kept under suboptimal (sanitary) conditions.

Ice blocks may vaccinate and enrich gestating sow welfare

An investigation of sow interaction with ice blocks on a farm with group-housed sows fed by electronic sow feeders

By M.K. Pierdon, A.M. John and T.D. Parsons. in: Journal of Swine Health and Production 24(6):309-314 · November 2016


More gestating sows are being housed in pens where it is challenging to implement controlled exposure to pathogens for disease control (“feedback”). Ice blocks provide a possible vehicle for feedback material in pen gestation. Ice blocks were placed once weekly for 6 consecutive weeks in a pen of approximately 130 sows to test whether sows would interact with the blocks of ice. Sows were housed in a large, dynamic pre-implantation group fed with electronic sow feeders. Each ice block was video-recorded for 1 hour. All sows that contacted it were identified. The number of sows, their duration of contact, and amount of aggression were coded from the video. Median number of sows that interacted with the ice was 94, and increasing the number of ice blocks from two to four per pen increased the median number of sows to contact the ice and the median duration of an individual sow’s contact with the ice, and decreased the amount of aggression at each block. Our findings suggest ice blocks are a convenient vehicle for controlled exposure of feedback material to gestating sows housed in large pens. However, additional studies are needed to validate pathogen exposure with this method.


Understanding tail biters and victimized pigs during outbreaks of tail biting

Understanding tail biters and victimized pigs during outbreaks of tail biting
By Y. Li, J. Anderson, A. Holten, A.M. Hilbrands, J. Holen and L.J. Johnston, 2016. Jounal of Animal Science 94, suppl 2: 2, p. 8-9.


Tail biting is a common problem in growing–finishing pigs, which can compromise health, growth, and welfare of pigs. Because tail biting is an abnormal behavior performed by tail biters toward victimized pigs, understanding these pigs may help us solve the problem. This study was conducted to evaluate immune function of tail biters and victimized pigs. Pigs (n = 240; 25.7 ± 2.9 kg initial weight) were housed in 8 pens of 30 pigs for 16 wk. Once visible blood on a tail appeared, pigs in that pen were assessed daily for tail score (0 = no damage, 1 = healed lesions, 2 = visible blood without swelling, 3 = swelling and signs of infection, and 4 = partial or total loss of the tail). Victimized pigs were defined as pigs with tail scores equal to or greater than 2. Meanwhile, a 2-h observation was conducted for 2 consecutive days to identify tail biters. In each pen in which tail biting occurred, blood samples were collected from victimized pigs on the day that tail biting was first observed as well as from tail biters and 2 control pigs with no sign of tail damage. Fourteen biters (6 barrows and 8 gilts), 30 victimized pigs (21 barrows and 9 gilts), and 28 control pigs (14 barrows and 14 gilts) were identified for blood sampling. Total serum protein and IgG concentrations were analyzed using the spectrophotometric method. Data were analyzed using the Glimmix model of SAS (SAS Inst. Inc., Cary, NC). Compared with control and victimized pigs, tail biters had lower total serum protein (P = 0.01; Table 018) and IgG concentrations (P = 0.01), suggesting poor immunity. There were no differences in total serum protein or IgG concentrations between control and victimized pigs. These preliminary results suggest that tail biters may experience compromised immunity.

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.


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

Penile injuries (incl. penis biting) in domestic (& wild) pigs

Penile Injuries in Wild and Domestic Pigs.
By Weiler U, Isernhagen M, Stefanski V, Ritzmann M, Kress K, Hein C, Zöls S. 2016. Animals 6: 4.


In boars, sexually motivated mounting can not only cause problems such as lameness, but penile injuries are also reported. The relevance of penis biting in boars is discussed controversially, but reliable data is missing. In the present study, boars ( n = 435) and barrows ( n = 85) from experimental farms were therefore evaluated for scars, fresh wounds and severe injuries of the penis. Similarly, 321 boars from 11 farms specializing in pork production with boars, and 15 sexually mature wild boars from the hunting season of 2015/16 were included in the study. In domestic boars, a high incidence of penile injuries was obvious (76.6%-87.0% of animals with scars and/or wounds at experimental farms, 64.0%-94.9% at commercial farms). The number of boars with severe injuries was in a similar range in both groups (7.3% vs. 9.3%). At commercial farms, the number of scars but not that of fresh wounds increased per animal with age by 0.3 per week. Moreover, raising boars in mixed groups led to about a 1.5 times higher number of scars than in single-sex groups. In wild boars, a considerable proportion of animals (40%) revealed penile injuries, which were even severe in three animals. We therefore conclude that penis biting is a highly relevant and severe welfare problem in the male pig population, but this phenomenon is not limited to intensive production systems.

In commerical pig production penis biting is a problem of intact boars. The examined barrows were all free of scars, wounds, severe injuries or suppuration.
For pictures of just how severe penis biting in pigs can be see the article Penisbeissen ein blutiges Phanomen in der Ebermast.

Study on the Association between Tail Lesion Score, Cold Carcass Weight, and Viscera Condemnations in Slaughter Pigs

Study on the Association between Tail Lesion Score, Cold Carcass Weight, and Viscera Condemnations in Slaughter Pigs
By Dayane L.Teixeira, Sarah Harley, Alison Hanlon, Niamh Elizabeth O’Connell, Simon J. More, Edgar G. Manzanilla and Laura A. Boyle, 2016. Frontiers in Veterinary Science.


The aim of this study was to assess the relationship between tail lesions, cold carcass weight, and viscera condemnations in an Irish abattoir. The following data were collected at the evisceration point from every third pig slaughtered over 7 days: farm identification, sex, tail lesion score, viscera inspection outcome, and cold carcass weight. Tail lesions were scored according to a 5-point scale. Disease lesions responsible for lung (pleurisy, pneumonia, and abscess), heart (pericarditis), and liver (ascariasis) condemnation were recorded based on the decision of the veterinary inspector (VI). Data on 3,143 pigs from 61 batches were available. The relationship between disease lesions, tail lesion score, and cold carcass weight was studied at individual carcass level, while the relationship between disease lesions and tail lesion score was studied at both carcass and batch level. Tail lesions (score ≥1) were found in 72% of the study population, with 2.3% affected by severe tail lesions (scores ≥3). Pleurisy (13.7%) followed by pneumonia (10.4%) showed the highest prevalence, whereas the prevalence of ascariasis showed the greatest variation between batches (0-75%). Tail lesion score, pleurisy, pleuropneumonia, and pericarditis were associated with reductions in carcass cold weight (P ≤ 0.05) ranging from 3 to 6.6 kg. Tail lesion score was associated with condemnations for pleurisy, pneumonia, and pleuropneumonia (P ≤ 0.05) at a batch level. VI shift was associated with condemnations for pneumonia, pleuropneumonia, and pericarditis (P ≤ 0.05) at a carcass level and with pneumonia at a batch level. Sex was not associated with viscera condemnations but males were more likely to be affected by tail lesions. The relationship between overall tail lesion score and the lung diseases at batch level supports the relationship between poor health and poor welfare of pigs on farms. The inclusion of tail lesion scores at post-mortem meat inspection should be considered as a health and welfare diagnostic tool.