Category Archives: Tail biting

Just a nice picture of what a pig’s tail should look like

What do you see?

Please have a look at this pig’s tail. You may note that contrary to most EU pigs, this Finnish pig has a curly tail. In addition, please note that this pig does not only has a curly tail. Its tail also has a hairy plume. That is what a pig’s tail should look like: It is the pig’s welfare thermometer.

Curly tail as sign of melting pig-welfare iceberg

The FareWellDock project has accumulated scientific information directed at reducing the need for tail docking in Europe. In this way it has contributed to ending the progressive melting of the pig-welfare iceberg. But sometimes, a picture says more than a thousand words, for the pig’s tail is an iceberg indicator for pig welfare.

Culty pig tail with brush

Curly pig tail (© Mari Heinonen).

Survey on straw use and tail biting on Swedish pig farms

Wallgren, T. R. Westin and S. Gunnarsson, 2016.  A survey of straw use and tail biting in Swedish pig farms rearing undocked pigs. Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica 58:84.


Background: Tail biting is a common problem in intensive pig farming, affecting both welfare and production. Although routine tail docking is banned within the EU, it remains a common practice to prevent tail biting. Straw as environmental enrichment has been proposed as an alternative to tail docking, but its effectiveness against tail biting and function in manure handling systems have to be considered. The aim of the study was to survey how pigs with intact tails are raised and how tail biting is handled in Sweden, where tail docking is banned through national legislation. The study emphasises straw usage and its association with tail biting pigs and problems in the manure handling system. The expectation is that this information could be conveyed to the rest of the EU to reduce the need for tail docking.

Results: In a telephone survey of randomly selected Swedish pig farmers (46 nursery and 43 finishing pig units) with at least 50 sows or 300 finishing places, it was found that straw was used by 98% of the farmers. The median daily straw ration provided was 29 g/pig for nursery and 50 g/pig for finishing pigs in systems with partly slatted flooring. The reported prevalence of tail biting was 1.6% at slaughter. The majority of farmers reported that they never had manure handling problems caused by straw (56% of nursery units and 81% of finishing pig units). A proportion of farmers (37%) also provided with additional material apart from straw on some occasions, which may have affected tail biting prevalence and manure handling problems.

Conclusions: Swedish farmers rear undocked pigs without large problems with tail biting. Straw is the main manipulable material used, and additional manipulable material is used to various extents. The low incidence of straw obstructing the manure handling systems implies that it is indeed possible to use straw in partly slatted flooring systems, reducing the need for tail docking. The impact of using additional manipulable material is unknown and requires more investigation to separate the impact of such material from the impact of straw.

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


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


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


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.


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.

EC Webinar on Tail biting and Tail docking of Pigs

4-6th October 2016: Meeting and Webinar on Actions to Prevent Tailbiting and Reduce Tail docking of Pigs

Note: The presentations of the meeting can be accessed here. The video  recordings will be available for some time after the meeting via this link.

The European Commission Directorate General for Health and Food Safety is organising a three day meeting at the offices of its Health and Food Audit and Analysis Directorate in Ireland on actions to prevent tailbiting and reduce tail docking of pigs.

The programme includes a wide range of relevant topics. It is delivered by experts from industry, Member State Competent Authorities, research bodies, EU institutions and NGOs.  Case studies will facilitate the exchange of good practice and workshops will focus on better solutions for the future. The work of the EU FareWellDock project will also be presented at this meeting.

The meeting is aimed at the authorities of Member States, international organizations, scientists, industry and NGOs.

The Agenda can be found below.

Please note that proceedings from this meeting, apart from breakout groups, will be broadcast live on the Internet and can be followed by logging in to the following links:

  • 4 October: 14:00- 16:45 GMT.

  • 5 October: 09:00- 16:30 GMT.

  • 6 October: 09:45-15:00 GMT.

Please send any questions you may have on the presentations to the functional mailbox: and we will endeavour to answer as many as we can during the time for questions at the end of each presentation. If we cannot answer your question during the webinar, we will forward your question to the presenter for response after the event.

Curly tail



4th-6th October 2016, Dir F, Grange, Ireland

Tuesday 4th Oct

14:00 Opening Address, Background and objectives Dir. F. T Cassidy
14:20 Policy perspective Dir G. D Simonin
14:40 Farewelldock project Overview & Immediate and long term consequences of tail docking and tail biting for pig welfare. S Edwards/P Di Giminiani
15:00 Farewelldock project – Use of straw to reduce tail-biting as an alternative to tail-docking. L J Pedersen
15:20 Farewelldock project – Early detection of tail biting and the role of health. C Munsterhjelm
15:40 COST action (GroupHouseNet) with activities related to Tailbiting. A Prunier
16:00 Coffee break
16:30 Overview Report of Study Visits on Rearing Pigs with intact tails
Breakout group discussion on measuring on-farm performance of criteria listed in Commission Recommendation (EU) 2016/336. Dir F
18:00 Close of day 1 – Bus to Knightsbrook Hotel
Wednesday 5th Oct

08:30 Bus from Knightsbrook Hotel
09:00 Change- Recent Experience from the poultry sector. B Eivers /N O’Nuallain
09:20 Funding possibilities for changes to housing/management leading to lower stress pig production.  P G Solernou
09:50 Maintaining low stress pig production-rearing pigs with intact tails. R Weber
10:30 Coffee break
11:00 Maintaining low stress pig production-rearing pigs with intact tails. J Lindahl
11:40 Maintaining low stress pig production-rearing pigs with intact tails. T.Tirkkonen
12:30 Lunch
13:30 NGO perspectives on developing and implementing a Quality Assurance scheme for improving the rearing of pigs and phasing out tail docking.  Bert Van Den Berg
14:00 Actions to improve the productivity and welfare of pigs with the aim of reducing tail docking.  D L Schroder
14:30 Actions to improve the productivity and welfare of pigs with the aim of reducing tail docking.  H Van der Velde
15:00 Coffee break
15:30 Actions to improve the productivity and welfare of pigs with the aim of reducing tail docking. C Veit
16:00 Actions to improve the productivity and welfare of pigs with the aim of reducing tail docking.  M Chapman-Rose
16:30 MS Communication strategies for improving the productivity and welfare of pigs with the aim of reducing tail docking. F2
Breakout group discussion on benchmarking farms at national level on levels of tail biting, tail docking and provision of sufficient enrichment  materia
17:45 Close of day 2 – Bus to Knightsbrook Hotel

Thursday 6th Oct

08:30 Bus from Knightsbrook Hotel
09:00 Overview of MS’ Action Plans to implement the Commission Recommendations (EU) 2016/336 of 8 March 2016. Dir F
09:45 COM programme on actions to prevent tailbiting and reduce tail docking of pigs. Dir F
10:30 Coffee break
11:00 Industry Initiatives to improve the rearing of pigs and phasing out tail docking.  H P Lahrmann
11:30 Discussion
12:30 Lunch
13:30 Conclusions and future actions
15:00 Departure of bus for airport / Departure of bus to hotel
17:30 Departure of bus for Dublin
*   Please note that proceedings from this meeting, apart from breakout groups, will be broadcast live on the Internet.

Tail-in-mouth behaviour in weaned piglets

Can tail-in-mouth behaviour in weaned piglets be predicted by behaviour and performance? By Camilla Munsterhjelm, Mari Heinonen, Anna Valros. In: Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci.


This study aimed to identify characteristics of pigs performing tail-in-mouth behaviour (TIM; P, n =34), their recipients (R, n =23) and neutral penmates (N, n =31) at two occasions, the first being at weaning (4 weeks of age) before TIM was observed in the pen and the second being at 9 weeks of age when TIM had emerged, but no clinical tail lesions were observed. The groups (n =22) were formed by siblings, two gilts and two castrates. Behaviour was analysed as 24-hour time budgets and continuously sampled during 30minutes of the active part of the day. Category (P, R, N) effects were analysed at individual and (directed) dyad level. P was born significantly smaller than R, but the difference had disappeared at 4 weeks. Growth or sex distribution did not differ between categories. Category differences in performed behaviour were evident at 4 weeks of age, when P showed more overall activity and environmental exploration as compared to R, as well as more bouts of tail-nosing than N. Different aspects of behaviour changed in the different categories between 4 and 9 weeks of age. In P social activity increased significantly and went from no preference at 4 weeks to a significant preference for social actions for R over N at 9 weeks. N was socially passive at 9 weeks while receiving more social behaviour than the other categories. These differences in behaviour suggest that the categories represented different phenotypes of pigs.

Agent-based modelling in applied ethology: An exploratory case study of behavioural dynamics in tail biting in pigs

Agent-based modelling in applied ethology: An exploratory case study of behavioural dynamics in tail biting in pigs. By Iris J.M.M. Boumans, Gert Jan Hofstede, J. Elizabeth Bolhuis, Imke J.M. de Boer, Eddie A.M. Bokkers. 2016. Applied Animal Behaviour Science


Understanding behavioural dynamics in pigs is important to assess pig welfare in current intensive pig production systems. Agent-based modelling (ABM) is an approach to gain insight into behavioural dynamics in pigs, but its use in applied ethology and animal welfare science has been limited so far. We used ABM in a case study on tail biting behaviour in pigs to explore the use of ABM in gaining more insight into emergent injurious pig behaviour and related welfare issues in intensive production systems. We developed an agent-based model in Netlogo 5.1.0 to simulate tail biting behaviour of pigs housed in conventional pens in groups of 10. Pigs in the model started as neutral pigs (not involved in biting incidents), but could change into a biter, victim, or both biter and victim. Tail biting behaviour could emerge when pigs were unable to fulfil their internal motivation to explore. The effects of a redirected exploratory motivation, behavioural changes in victims and preference to bite a lying pig on tail biting patterns were tested in our model. The simulations with the agent-based model showed that coincidence in development of a redirected exploratory motivation can lead to tail biting behaviour in pigs and can explain the strong variations in incidence of tail biting behaviour observed in conventionally housed pigs. Behavioural changes in victims and preference to bite a lying pig seem to be of minor importance in the causation of tail biting patterns. The behavioural time budget of a pig might be an important factor in predisposing pigs to or preventing them from becoming a tail biter or a victim. ABM showed to be useful in analysing behavioural dynamics and welfare issues. An advantage for ABM in applied ethology is the availability of data from empirical studies.

On-farm tail biting prevention in long-tailed pigs – results from a producer questionnaire in Finland

On-farm tail biting prevention in long-tailed pigs – results from a producer questionnaire in Finland. By Valros, A., C. Munsterhjelm, L. Hänninen, T. Kauppinen, M. Heinonen, 2016. Royal Dublin Society: Abstracts book of the 24th International Pig Veterinary Society (IPVS) Congress, Dublin, Republic of Ireland 7-10th June 2016. p. 144.


Introduction: Tail biting is a serious welfare problem in pigs, causing substantial economic losses. In the majority of the EU countries, tail docking is used to reduce the incidence of tail biting. However, many of the risk factors for tail biting are related to suboptimal management, and tail biting can be reduced by corrective management decisions. There are few studies on which preventive measures producers themselves value as most important.

Materials and Methods: A questionnaire was distributed via slaughterhouse webpages in 2015. Producers were asked to score the importance of handling different tail-biting risk factors on their own farms, as well as about which manipulable materials they use, and find efficient. In addition, we asked about their opinions on tail biting and tail docking. A total of 70 producers replied, 54 of these replies were regarding fattening pigs, and 16 regarding weaned pigs. The size of the pig units varied between 100 and 6400 pigs, with an average of 1307 pigs. Finland banned tail docking in 2003, so all farms raised long-tailed pigs only.

Results: On average, the producers reported a prevalence of tail biting of 2,3% on their farms, which corresponds well with values reported at Finnish abattoirs. Most producers found tail biting not to be a big problem on their farms and 62% of the farmers found it very unlikely that they would raise tail docked pigs even if it was legal in Finland. The more tail biting reported on the farm, the more problematic the farmers found tail biting, and the more prone they were to say they would probably tail dock if they were allowed to. According to the Finnish producers, the most important factor to prevent tail biting is that there is enough feeding space for the pigs. Altogether, four feeding-related risk factors were included in the top-10 measures to prevent tail biting. Also pig health was considered very important, as well as a good quality of piglets, and controlling air movements in the pen. Straw, newspaper, hay and cardboard were considered the most efficient manipulable materials to prevent tail biting. If tail biting has already started in the pen, the producers ranked identifying and removing the tail biter from the pen as most important, followed by adding bedding-type manipulable materials.

Conclusion: The results are partly in accordance with experimental and epidemiological studies on risk factors for tail biting, but the high focus on feeding-related and health factors is interesting. Finnish farmers appear to handle the tail docking ban well, and do not, on average, find tail biting a very serious problem.