Category Archives: Health

Effects of clinical lameness and tail biting lesions on voluntary feed intake in growing pigs

Effects of clinical lameness and tail biting lesions on voluntary feed intake in growing pigs
Camilla Munsterhjelm, Mari Heinonen and Anna Valros, 2015. Livestock Science, 181: 210–219.


• We modelled voluntary feed intake in clinically lame or tail bitten pigs.
• Age, sex, diagnosis, initial weight and eventual recovery affects feed intake.
• Feed intake starts decreasing 2–3 weeks before diagnosis.
• Feed intake decreases 10–99% from control levels in sick pigs.
• Anorexia is prolonged in lame animals not recovering to slaughter condition.


A decreased feed intake is considered one of the first signs of disease in farm animals. Feeding-related individual data collected by electronic feeding systems may thus be useful in detecting illness at an early stage. The aim of this study was to determine changes in individual-level voluntary feed intake in growing pigs before and after a bout of sickness modelled by clinical lameness or an acute tail (biting) lesion, which together count for a significant part of overall health problems in intensive pig production. The data consisted of individual records of health and day-level feed intake in fattening pigs between about 40 and 120 kg obtained from the Finnish progeny test farm. Feed was available ad libitum from automatic single-space feeders. Two time periods in relation to diagnosis (day 0), day −50 to 0 (pre-) and day 0 to +50 (post-), were modelled separately for both diagnoses using hierarchical linear models with random and repeated effects. All healthy animals in the affected animals’ pens were used as controls. The number of pigs in the different analyses were 243/551 (cases/controls, pre-tail lesion), 205/693 (post-tail lesion), 116/588 (pre-lameness) and 165/892 (post-lameness).
Feed intake in the study animals was affected by sex, weight at arrival to the farm, health status (lame or tail bitten case vs healthy control), eventual recovery (culled or dead vs recovering to slaughter condition), the day relative to diagnosis and approximate age (the day on the farm), with the four latter factors involved in multiple interactions. Feed intake started decreasing already 2–3 weeks pre-diagnosis in future lame or tail bitten animals, suggesting a common predisposing factor such as reactive coping. Feed intake decreased substantially (13–99%) from control levels in sick animals, with the level dependent on diagnosis, degree of eventual recovery and age. Lame animals ingested two to three times less than tail bitten ones at diagnosis. Within both diagnoses, culled-to-be animals ingested roughly half the relative amount of those recovering to slaughter condition, suggesting that relative feed intake at diagnosis may predict the outcome of disease. Younger animals were generally more severely affected than older ones. Anorexia was prolonged up to about 30 days in culled-to-be lame animals in contrast to all other groups modeled, which started recovery immediately upon diagnosis and initiated treatment. The observed changes and differences in feed intake may indicate differences in animal welfare.

Saving the pig tail

Anna Valros and Mari Heinonen published a paper called “Save the pig tail” in Porcine Health Management.


Tail biting is a common problem in modern pig production and has a negative impact on both animal welfare and economic result of the farm. Tail biting risk is increased by management and housing practices that fail to meet the basic needs of pigs. Tail docking is commonly used to reduce the risk of tail biting, but tail docking in itself is a welfare problem, as it causes pain to the pigs, and facilitates suboptimal production methods from a welfare point-of-view. When evaluating the cost and benefit of tail docking, it is important to consider negative impacts of both tail docking and tail biting. It is also essential to realize that even though 100% of the pigs are normally docked, only a minority will end up bitten, even in the worst case. In addition, data suggests that tail biting can be managed to an acceptable level even without tail docking, by correcting the production system to better meet the basic needs of the pigs.

Valros, A., M. Heinonen, 2015. Save the pig tail. Porcine Health Management 2015 1:2.

Project objectives

FareWellDock project: aim and objectives

FareWellDock is a three-year research project which is part of the Animal Health and Welfare (ANIHWA) ERA-net initiative. The ANIHWA ERA-Net aims to increase cooperation and coordination of national research programmes on the health and welfare of farm animals.

The general aim of the FareWellDock project is to supply necessary information for quantitative risk assessment and stimulate the development towards a non-docking policy in the EU.

The project is led by Professor Anna Valros at the University of Helsinki. The other partners in the project include Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), Newcastle University, INRA (France), Aarhus University (Denmark), Wageningen UR Livestock Research (Netherlands), SLU (Sweden) and the Norwegian School of Veterinary Science.

The research concerns the hazards related to using tail docking as a preventive measure in comparison with the hazard of being tail bitten, as well as on solving some of the main risk factors of tail biting: lack of enrichment, health problems, and delayed detection of an outbreak. In particular new animal-based measures are studied for a better comprehension of the consequences and the prevention of tail docking and tail biting, for enrichment value assessment, and for pain and sickness diagnostics. In addition to aiding future risk assessment, this project provides information about how end users (esp. farmers) can reduce tail biting.

The project has 3 work packages (WP). WP1 concerns pain related to docking and tail biting; WP2 concerns enrichment, and WP 3 concerns health and behaviour-related predispositions to tail biting. The WPs are coordinated by Newcastle University, Aarhus University and the University of Helsinki respectively.

The objectives of WP1 are:
* To characterise the time course of traumatic neuroma development caused by tail resection.
* To assess 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. At a more fundamental level, this provides a model of the effects of nerve damage (amputation) in neonates, subsequent neuroma development and its effects upon nociceptive processing throughout life.
* To assess the effects of tail-damage in more mature pigs on neuroma formation and stump pain sensitivity. This will provide a basis for assessing the pain associated with being tail

The objectives of WP2 are:
* To develop and validate a protocol for an animal-based screening method, based on exploratory behaviour and skin/tail lesions, for what constitutes a sufficient quantity of rooting material.
* To explore the feasibility and validity of using AMI sensors and tear staining to measure the value of enrichment materials under farm conditions.
* To test the effect of straw length, slat width and manure handling methods on pen functioning and ease of manure handling, and to describe suitable methods for implementing use of straw under commercial farming conditions.
* To make scientific information on methods to reduce tail docking and improve enrichment better accessible to farmers, policy makers and the general public through the establishment of a web tool and publications in farmer magazines.
* To investigate, under farm conditions, the efficiency of tail docking vs. enrichment given in sufficient quantity to reduce the occurrence of tail lesions.

The objectives of WP3 are:
* To clarify the role of poor health in the causation of tail biting and victimization. Information will be gathered on behavioural signs of sickness in pigs, and on its effects on group dynamics
* To increase knowledge about the sickness behavior of pigs suffering from different physical injuries and infectious conditions, occurring also in tail biting outbreaks. This in turn can be used when management and facilities for sick pigs are planned in the future, to decrease the adverse effects of such outbreaks
* To study the underlying central and peripheral stress- and immune-related mechanisms in detail to give insight into factors predisposing pigs to become tail biters or victims.
* To determine the characteristics of individuals for reliable identification of pigs at risk of becoming a tail biter or victim, including tail-biting related and social behaviour, and tear staining
* To develop automated systems for early warning of tail biting outbreaks which could be used especially in large herds

Project activities related to communication include the the writing of scientific papers, giving presentations at meetings/conferences, the production of webpages, blog posts and factsheets on this website, and providing input for farmer magazines.

Figure 1 of the FareWellDock project
Figure 1 Structure of the FareWellDock project

See also:
New Project Aims to End Tail Docking.
Project summary of FareWellDock on the Eranet ANIHWA website.

SRUC press release

SRUC issued a press release and posted this message on their website:
New Project Aims to End Tail Docking.
In response BBC’s Farming Today interviewed Prof. Sandra Edwards (Newcastle University, 12-09-2013).

Secondary coverage:
Connect – Sustainable Food Supply and Security. 11-09-13. New project aims to end tail docking in pigs
Farmers Weekly Interactive 11-09-13 New project aims to end pig tail docking in EU
Farm Business – Online 11-09-13 New project aims to end tail docking.
Farming Monthly 11-09-13 New project aims to end tail docking
FarmingUK 12-09-13 New project aims to end tail docking
Press and Jounal (Aberdeen), J. Watson 12-09-13 Study launched in bid to end docking of pigs’ tails.