Tag Archives: Farmer

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.

Curly pig tail farming in Finland and Italy (two EC videos)

EU legislation on the welfare of pigs (Council Directive 2008/120/EC laying down minimum standards for the protection of pigs) does not allow routine tail-docking and requires farmers to provide to their pigs “manipulable material” such as straw, hay or sawdust.
To better inform farmers how to prevent routine tail docking, the Commission developed educational materials. The two videos present success stories in achieving the goal of rearing not-tailed pigs.

A Finnish farming with an intensive system rearing piglets with intact, curly tails.

An Italian farmer proud of rearing curly tails on straw

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.

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: SANTE-IRL-WEBINAR-REARING-PIGS-WITH-INTACT-TAILS@ec.europa.eu 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.

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.

The pig tail, even when bitten, is an indicator of pig welfare

Tiistai 27.01.2015 12:03 Tiina Kauppinen

Tail docking is a common practice in most EU countries to reduce tail biting in pigs. Tail biting causes pigs pain and stress but, more importantly, it indicates underlying welfare problems. In a few European countries, such as in Finland, tail docking is forbidden by the national animal welfare act. Yet in Finland, pork production is a professional livelihood ranging from small to large piggeries where all pigs have tails. Animal welfare standards are slightly higher than average on a European scale and farmers take several welfare-improving measures to prevent tail biting. By addressing the problems in animals’ living conditions, health, nutrition and behaviour, tail docking is made unnecessary. Admittedly, occasional outbursts of tail-biting have to be tolerated and biters as well as bitten pigs will have to be treated accordingly to maintain the balance between individual and herd-level welfare.

Pig tails on a large scale

Lively little piggies are nosing each other and biting nylon ropes hanging from the ceiling. A bit calmer and fleshier growing pigs are rooting straw on the pen floor and tasting penmate’s tails and ears. A few pigs have bite marks on their tails, even one freshly bitten tail can be seen, but every pig has a tail of its own as a premise.

Timo Heikkilä, the owner of the piggery, has almost 30 years’ experience in pig production. At the moment his piggery feeds 20 employees, 3500 sows, 4000 fattening pigs and 1200 gilts. The piggery is one of the biggest in Finland and of reasonable size also in European scale.

According to Heikkilä, tail biting used to be a problem on his farm, too. A few years ago there was a tricky situation where slaughterhouses could not take enough pigs in, leaving the pens overcrowded. After the pig rush eased, biting has been only occasional. Heikkilä stresses the importance of good feeding in improving pig welfare and reducing tail biting: there has to be enough feed of good quality available for all pigs. Also the conditions inside the piggery have to match the pig’s needs: feeding trough has to be long enough to serve every pig at the same time, and draught and temperature inside the pen have to be under control. It is also important to even out the litters right after birth, but after weaning penmates should not be mixed anymore.

Figure 4

Tail biting occurs on Heikkilä’s farm, too, but most of the tails are intact.

Figure 2

There is no bedding but the straw rack and a hanging toy provide enrichment for growing pigs (8–30 kg). Floor is mainly concrete and partially slatted. Ventilation seems to work fine as the pens are relatively clean.

Straw for enrichment

Good quality straw is the basis for effectively preventing tail biting, says Heikkilä. It’s not always easy to find large amounts of good straw to buy, so Heikkilä harvests his own straw through summer and fall. Using straw requires dry litter system or, as in Heikkilä’s piggery, a special slurry system designed to stand moderate amounts of straw. Ventilation and air quality are usually associated with the functioning of the slurry system and managing them all properly is especially important for keeping up animal welfare.

Heikkilä uses straw as enrichment material, not as bedding. Every pen has a small rack full of straw for the pigs to pull out and chew. There is only a small handful of straw on each pen floor, but the pigs are eagerly nosing the two straws crossed and rushing around when extra straw is thrown to the pen.

Newspapers, tar and strict rules

Prevention of tail biting through improved animal welfare is the most important measure, but when biting occurs, other measures are needed. Whenever there is a bitten tail, Heikkilä says he throws generous amounts of paper or straw into the pen, puts some tar on the bitten tail, and if possible, takes the bitten pig into a separate pen for recovery.

In Finland pig health in general is exemplary and antibiotic use is restricted. On Heikkilä’s farm, illness protection is profound. After a trip to home country, foreign employees face 48 h quarantine before entering the piggery.  Work clothes are changed after a thorough shower and a Finnish sauna. The color coding of clothes for different piggery units is as strict as it is in the animal hospital of the University of Helsinki. Health as a part of animal welfare and a way to prevent tail biting is not a joke in this piggery.

Mission possible

If keeping pigs with tails in commercial, large-scale system works in Finland, why wouldn’t it work also in other European countries, Heikkilä suggests. He lists research, change of generations, shutdown of old-fashioned farms, and change in farmer and public attitudes as the most efficient ways of moving forward in animal welfare. All this requires also political goodwill and steering. The measures taken to improve pig welfare on Heikkilä’s farm don’t fundamentally differ from the basic Finnish standard, and there is a number of issues and options to further improve pig welfare. However, the reasonable scale and profitability of Heikkilä’s farm proves that these measures are feasible in modern pig industry.

Heikkilä cherishes the idea that every civilized state can afford keeping pigs with tails, and that we shouldn’t push animals too far but be happy with less to keep our animals happy as well. Tail biting may not ever completely end, but at least there would be less suffering if few animals are bitten compared with the situation where all animals have to face mutilation.

Heikkilä’s advice to keeping pigs with tails:

1.    Wellbeing is the starting point. Avoid tail biting by prevention.

2.    Provide enough room for feeding (pen size, trough length)

– all pigs have to have  access to food simultaneously.

3.    Take care of warm and draught-free resting area.

4.    Take care of proper ventilation and air quality.

5.    Give stimulation and rooting material preventatively, before problems arise.

6.    Take good care of animal health.

Heikkila “There’s always someone in charge of what is happening with the pigs – if it’s not me, it’s one of my employees”, says Timo Heikkilä.


Reseach related to prevention of tail biting:

FareWellDock is a three-year research project which is part of the Animal Health and Welfare (ANIHWA) ERA-net initiative. The 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.

Read also the results of the Finnish research project on pig enrichment.

This article was first published at eläintieto.fi.

Dutch Magazin article: Anon. 2015. Varkensstaartje in Finland niet gecoupeerd. [Small pig tail not docked in Finland]. V-focus April 2015, p. 17.

EU compliance regarding enrichment and tail docking

This post is the abstract of a student report:

Edman, F. 2014. Do the Member States of the European Union comply with the legal requirements for pigs regarding manipulable material and tail docking? Student report 572, SLU, Skara, Sweden. Accessed 17-2-2015.


Tail biting behaviour is a major animal welfare issue in intense pig production, as well as an economic issue. To prevent the behaviour, tail docking is practised. It is a painful procedure where a part of or the whole tail is cut off.

There is a lot of research on the subject of tail biting, with a big variety of solutions to prevent the behaviour. Scientists are consistent about that the absence of manipulable material increases the risk for tail biting. Manipulable material works as an environmental enrichment and stimulates natural behaviours of the pig, such as investigation and rooting. It helps pigs to cope with the environment and reduces stress and frustration, triggers that can lead to tail biting.

The legal requirement regarding tail docking state that it shall not be practised on a routine basis and has been in force since the 1st of January 1994. It was strengthened in 2003 and now appears in Council Directive 2008/120/EC which codifies the earlier directives. The legal requirement now states that measures to prevent tail biting shall be taken before practising tail docking, measures such as changing inadequate management systems, changed environment and reduced stock densities.

Pigs shall also have access to a suitable material or object, to be able to perform natural behaviours and prevent tail biting and stereotypies. In the latest version of the directive on pigs this material was defined as straw, hay, wood, sawdust, mushroom compost, peat or a mixture of such.

The aim of this study was to investigate the current situation of compliance with the legal requirements in the directive on pigs, regarding the provision of manipulable material and the routine practice of tail docking. It was also to investigate actions to increase compliance among the Member States in the European Union. A descriptive analysis of available FVO-reports was used, together with written answers from the Competent Authorities and a qualitative interview with people at the Commission and the FVO.

The results of this report showed that 18 out of 28 Member States in the European Union do not comply with the legal requirement regarding the provision of manipulable material, and that 17 of the Member States do not comply with the legal requirement regarding the practice of tail docking. There has not been any actions such as sanctions to increase the compliance among the Member States.

These findings make an overall conclusion possible about the current issues with the compliance of the directive on pigs. There are no further intrinsic actions to increase compliance, due to a lack of responsibility among the involved parties, such as pig farmers, Competent Authorities and the Commision. Due to the lack of intrinsic action, it is an impossibility to conclude when full compliance will be fulfilled.

Routine tail docking of pigs

This post presents the abstract and executive summary of the EU report:

Marzocchi, O. 2014.  Routine tail-docking of pigs. Policy Department C: Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs, European Parliament, European Union, Brussels, accessed 17-2-2015.


Upon request of the PETI committee, the present study examines the issues raised in Petition 0336/2012, the legal framework on the protection of pigs, the level of implementation of the Directive on the protection of pigs in relation to tail-docking on the basis of the available information, the actions being carried out, or that could be carried out, to ensure proper implementation by Member States of the Directive requirements.
Docking a piglet's tail using cautery (hot iron)

Executive summary

The Committee on Petitions (PETI) examined on the 1st of April 2014 Petition 0336/2012 by C.R. (Danish citizen), on behalf of Dyrenes Beskyttelse (Danish Animal Welfare Society), concerning the routine tail-docking of piglets in Denmark1.

The petition raised the issue of the lack of implementation in Denmark, as well as in most EU Member States, of Council Directive 2008/120/EC laying down minimum standards for the protection of pigs, in relation to the rules governing the tail-docking of pigs.

The Commission recognised during the discussion that the implementation of the Directive in this regard is not satisfactory, but stated that it did not intend to launch infringement proceedings nor to propose amendments to the Directive, considering these actions as not appropriate. It stated instead that it preferred to rely on guidelines for Member States to ensure better implementation of the Directive, as well as on e-learning tools that are currently being developed. It also pointed to upcoming initiatives, such as framework legislation on animal welfare.

On the same day, PETI committee coordinators discussed the petition, the unsatisfactory implementation of the Directive, as well as the refusal by the Commission to launch infringement proceedings against non-compliant Member States. It was decided to request the Policy Department to analyse the issues discussed so to allow the committee to re-examine the matter during the new parliamentary term, including by potentially deciding to send a delegation to a number of Member States to investigate on the effective implementation of the Council Directive.

The present study addresses the PETI coordinators’ request to analyse the issues raised in the petition, the legal framework on the protection of pigs, the level of implementation of the Directive on the protection of pigs in relation to tail-docking on the basis of the available information, and the actions being carried out, or that could be carried out, to ensure proper implementation by Member States of the Directive requirements.

The study concludes that:

all the available evidence points at persisting high rates of non-compliance in the large majority of Member States in relation to the ban on routine tail-docking of pigs;

-Commission guidelines, training and e-learning tools, including on enrichment and manipulable materials, as well as a possible Framework Law on Animal Welfare, can be useful instruments to support farmers and Member States’ authorities in the implementation of the Directive; – at the same time, these could be accompanied by a stricter enforcement policy, notably since the Directive has been in force for more than 10 years (while the ban on routine tail-docking has been in force for more than 20 years); – the Commission could be bolder and prepared to launch infringement proceedings as an enforcement tool of last resort, as the mere prospect of serious action may prompt Member States to comply; – the Commission could also more systematically collect, monitor and publish information on the transposition of the Directive by Member States, as well as on their degree of compliance with the ban on routine tail-docking of pigs, including through inspections and specific requests to Member States.

Box 1: Tail-biting, tail-docking, routine tail-docking, enriching and manipulable material

Tail-biting, ie a pig biting another pigs’ tail, is an abnormal behaviour caused by several risk factors, notably by a poor or stressful environment frustrating the normal investigative behaviour of pigs (which are among the most intelligent and curious animals) in common intensive farming conditions. Tail-biting can result in infections, affecting the health and well-being of tail bitten pigs and can lead to tail-biting outbreaks.

Tail-docking is the practice of removing the tail or part of the tail of a pig, while routine tail-docking is the systematic docking of the tail of pigs, normally done in the early days of life, with the aim of avoiding the risk of tail-biting. It is done without anaesthesia, though it is a mutilation which is painful. Tail-docking can cause long-term chronic pain and infections, as well as redirection of the biting behaviour to other body parts, such as ears and legs.

Enriching and manipulable materials are materials such as straw, hay, wood, sawdust, mushroom compost and peat or a mixture of these, with which pigs can satisfy their explorative, playful and foraging behaviours. Studies have highlighted that the provision of such materials has a positive effect on pigs, reducing the risk of tailbiting.

Note: The opinions expressed in this document are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position of the European Parliament