Tag Archives: Germany

Mixing weaned piglets did affect tail biting

The effect of mixing piglets after weaning on the occurrence of tail-biting during rearing
By Christina Veit, Kathrin Büttner, Imke Traulsen, Marvin Gertz, Mario Hasler, Onno Burfeind, Elisabeth grosse Beilage, Joachim Krieter, 2017. Livestock Science 201: 70–73.

The aim of this study was to investigate the effects on tail-biting during rearing of housing piglets of the same litter compared to piglets from different litters. The treatments “litter-wise” (LW, n =240) and “mixed litters” (ML, n =238) were housed in five identical units. Each tail was scored regarding tail lesions and tail losses once per week with a four-point score (0= no damage/original length to 3= severe damage/total loss). The effect of week after weaning had highly significant influences on tail lesions (p<0.001). Tail-biting started in the second week after weaning, with an increasing severity during rearing. First tail losses were observed in the fourth week after weaning. The batch and the interaction between treatment and batch had highly significant influences on tail losses at the end of rearing (p<0.001). Depending on batch, piglets in the LW or ML treatment were more affected by tail-biting.

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

FareWellDock Edinburgh Satellite Meeting

On July 12th the FareWellDock consortium hosted a satellite meeting and videoconference at the Roslin Institute Building near Edinburgh to coincide with the 50th conference of the International Society for Applied Ethology. The aim of the satellite meeting was to invite researchers involved in other European projects on tail docking and biting to share their work and ideas with the consortium.

The speakers gave four excellent presentations which generated interesting discussions and more ideas for planning future work (see brief summaries below)

Updates of the three work packages were also presented at the meeting. Since the last meeting in March, several more articles on tail docking and biting have been published and a number are near completion. Work progress in all three work packages appears to be on track.

Emphasis was placed upon generating and circulating draft fact sheets from the 3 work packages before the FVO Stakeholder Meeting in Grange, Republic of Ireland on October 4-6th 2016.

Sabine Dippel, a researcher at the Federal Research Institute of Animal Health (FLI), provided a comprehensive overview of “Current tail biting projects in Germany” and the summarised outputs from 51 different projects ranging from those focussed on basic science to feasibility and survey-based studies. Preliminary findings suggested that:
• Undocked weaner pigs were at higher risk of tail biting than undocked fattening pigs.
• Farmers need to gain experience in observing pigs
• Farms need to change step-by-step towards intact tails
• Focus on farm-individual optimisation
• Greater coordination between production stages
• Advice, training, knowledge transfer were essential to achieving these aims
Tail biting pigs
Valérie Courboulay a researcher at IFIP (French Institute for the pig and pork industry) provided an overview of several IFIP related studies on tail biting and dissemination of information in the form of technical datasheets to French farmers. Data presented from studies where pain relief (meloxicam) was provided at the time of docking and castration showed marginal affects on general behaviours, except for increased time spent sitting. When investigating tail posture, pigs with more severe tail lesions (score 3) exhibited more tail-down posture than pigs with minor tail or no tail lesions (score 2-0). A recent study has been undertaken to develop a model of cannibalism in pigs based on frustration of exploratory behaviours by providing environmental enrichment (progressive supply) and straw in the post weaning period and then some groups were reared with or without environmental enrichment for a short duration in the fattening period. The results showed that:
• Removal of enrichment between the post weaning and fattening periods is not sufficient to induce tail biting
• Providing objects for a few days and removing them is not sufficient to induce tail biting
• Frustration of investigative behaviour, that is considered as a major risk factor, is not sufficient to induce tail biting

INRA factsheet on pain

Jen-yun Chou, a first year PhD student working at Teagasc in the Republic of Ireland, presented preliminary findings from her studies into the use of wood as a strategy to reduce the risk of tail biting in pigs managed on slatted floors. The potential use of wood as a manipulable material is viewed positively in Irish production systems due to the problems of slurry removal caused by loose straw in fully slatted systems. To date, preliminary data have shown that softwoods such as spruce and scots pine are more readily used by the pigs compared to more hardwoods such as larch and beech.
• Spruce was used up most quickly both in terms of length and weight loss, possibly due to its softness.
• There is a tendency of more interaction with the wood by pigs in pens provided with spruce.
• In terms of texture and moisture spruce is a good option for enrichment but the cost may be a drawback
• Different wood types did not affect harmful behaviours, pig physical measures and production.
• Correlation between ear lesion and tear staining scorings implies a potential welfare assessment method on farm due to easy visibility.
• Correlation between tail posture and lesion shows that posture could be an indicator of tail biting

Chewed wood

Anna Sinclair, a first year SRUC PhD student currently working at the Institut National de la Recherché Agronomique (INRA), presented preliminary findings from studies into the behavioural and neural/cellular consequences of tooth resection in commercial pigs at its implications for pig welfare. Although this work was not directly related to tail docking or biting it is a project that was developed through on-going collaborative research by Dr. Armelle Prunier ay INRA and Dr. Dale Sandercock at SRUC within the FareWellDock project, addressing the issue of early life pain in livestock. Preliminary data were presented on the effects of tooth clipping and tooth grinding on tooth length and tooth/gum injury, haematological measures, live weight/growth rates, general, stress and pain related behavioural measures. Findings to date have shown that:
• Tooth damage was readily observed but variable
• Maxillary incisors are most consistently affected
• Clipping results in tooth and gum bleeding
• Growth rates are unaffected
• Pigs exhibit reduced activity after tooth treatments
• Pigs keep their ears back less and their tails down more, although this could be handling effect
• High variation at this stage – more data are required

Tooth treatment

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.

Training veterinarians and agricultural advisers on a novel tool for tail biting prevention

Training veterinarians and agricultural advisers on a novel tool for tail biting prevention
By A. L. vom Brocke, D. P. Madey, M. Gauly, L. Schrader and S. Dippel (Vet Rec Open 2015).


Introduction Many health and welfare problems in modern livestock production are multifactorial problems which require innovative solutions, such as novel risk assessment and management tools. However, the best way to distribute such novel – and usually complex – tools to the key applicants still has to be discussed.
Materials and methods This paper shares experiences from distributing a novel tail biting prevention tool (‘SchwIP’) to 115 farm advisers and 19 veterinarians in 23 one-day workshops. Participants gave written and oral feedback at the end of the workshops, which was later analysed together with the number of farms they had visited after the workshops. Workshop groups were categorised into groups showing (a) HIGH, (b) INTermediate or (c) LOW levels of antagonism against SchwIP or parts of it during workshop discussions.
Results Group types did not significantly differ in their evaluation of knowledge transfer. However, HIGH group members evaluated the on-farm usability of the tool significantly lower in the workshop feedback and tended to visit fewer farms.
Conclusions As antagonistic discussion can influence workshop output, future workshop leaders should strive for basic communication training as well as some group leadership experience before setting up and leading workshops.

News from The Netherlands (and Germany)

This first week of February 2016 two items related to tail biting appeared in farmers’ press in The Netherlands. In addition, we recently provided input into a European project on the welfare of poultry, which will be reported on briefly below.

One news item announced that farmers are invited at the Intensive Farming Fair in Venray (LIV Venray), March 1-3 2016. At the fair two finished tail-biting projects will be presented and discussed with entrepreneurs who are active in intensive farming. One of the projects is ‘Keeping pigs with intact tails’.

The other item was a report on the German tail biting (Ringelschwanz-)project. First results of the curly-tail project in North-Rhine Westphalia showed that more than one quarter of piglets at 15 participating research farms had damaged tails before the end of the rearing period. At some farms half of the tails had been bitten. At the 15 farms participating in the study 30-94 piglets had been reared on each farm without tail docking. Outbreaks of tail biting appeared to be associated with streptococcus infections. Prevention and intervention strategies included providing dried maize silage or alfalfa hay twice daily and the isolation of biters respectively. Most tail biting occurred between week 2 and 4 after weaning. This level of tail biting is not so good news. If these levels of tail biting would persist, it may indicate that intensive systems cannot be made compatible with acceptable levels of animal welfare. Fortunately, however, experiences in Finland indicate that it should be possible to keep undocked pigs in conventional systems at much lower levels of tail biting (around 2% based on slaughter house data).

The German farmers union and North-Rhine Westphalia have agreed 1.5 years ago that they intend to stop tail docking by 2017. This will be done provided on-farm research shows that tail biting among pigs with intact tails does not reduce animal welfare. The general expectation is that the objective of safely quitting tail docking cannot be met.

From a Dutch research perspective two notes appear to be relevant:

The first is that our semantic-modelling approach provides a unique methodology to determine/assess  the cut-off point between the welfare impacts of tail biting and tail docking using formalised biological reasoning and scientific evidence. In this computation one must take into account all relevant aspects: So, not only the point that the welfare of tail bitten pigs is reduced due to blunt trauma (biting) compared to the sharp trauma of tail docking at an earlier age. But also the point must be recognised that the welfare of tail biting pigs may relatively be improved when they can bite their penmates’ tails, compared to when they cannot (other things being equal, i.e. lack of suitable enrichment). What matters for welfare as considered from the animals’ point of view is the extent to which they can satisfy their needs, e.g. for biting and the expression of species-specific foraging behaviour, taking into account also the activation of coping mechanisms such as redirected and harmful-social behaviours.

The second thing to note about the results of the German research project is the following. In addition to taking note of the bad news (many bitten tails, which has to be taken seriously, perhaps even to the point that the conclusion must be drawn that intensive systems are not compatible with acceptable animal welfare), one may also try to move forwards for the time being by focussing on the good news: Two out of the 15 pilot farms in Germany managed to keep all piglets’ tails intact. Other farms may learn from what was done on these farms to keep tails intact. Furthermore, since the EC Directive requires that all farms try to periodically keep at least some intact pigs, a 10% success rate could provide sufficient scope for progress at the population level, even when the causes of the success are poorly understood. This can be concluded from a methodology we designed previously to solve complex welfare problems like feather pecking in poultry and tail biting in pigs. This methodology has been called ‘Intelligent Natural Design’ (INO in Dutch; see also Bracke, 2010). It basically uses evolution to select the best farms to make increasing progress towards the objective of completely stopping the practice of routine tail docking in pig farming.

Countering the routine practices of tail docking and beak trimming, as well as preventing and treating outbreaks of tail biting and feather pecking requires an understanding of tipping points. Recently, we modified our tipping-bucket model for tail biting for inclusion on the Henhub website. This website, which is part of the Hennovation project, gives information about welfare issues in poultry, esp. (at present) feather pecking. On that site the modified tipping-bucket model can be found under the post describing the mechanism of feather pecking.

Tipping-bucket model of tail biting in pigs
Tipping-bucket model of tail biting in pigs

Bracke, M.B.M. 2010. Towards long(er) pig tails: New strategy to solve animal welfare problems. In: Lidfors, L., Blokhuis, H., Keeling, L., Proceedings of the 44th Congress of the ISAE, August 4-7 2010, Wageningen Academic Publishers, Wageningen, p. 135. (Poster, ISAE 2010, Uppsala, Sweden, Aug 4-7.

Germany to improve cooperation on tail biting research

By Sabine Dippel

As a follow-up to the German tail biting research review, German federal research institutions are currently making arrangements for better cooperation and coordination of their tail biting research. Representatives agreed to update an existing lesion scoring format from 2011 in such a way that it can be used to score tail and ear lesions in basic research as well as on-farm projects. In addition, a web-based database for tail biting experiments and projects will be launched in 2016 in order to facilitate knowledge exchange. The database will be based at the Institute of Animal Welfare and Animal Husbandry (ITT) within the German Federal Research Institute for Animal Health (FLI).

The German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) also recognised the great importance of tail biting and other pig topics, and granted a new permanent pig welfare research position at ITT for 2016.
fwd 191215 pixabay piglets tails

Soundbites Pig Welfare Conference: 5. Interviews with legislators

On 29 – 30 April 2015 Danish Minister for Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, Dan Jørgensen hosted an international conference “Improving Pig Welfare – what are the ways forward?“.

During the two-day conference, top academics, experts and political stakeholders from around the world debated and worked to prepare the way forward in improving pig welfare in Europe and ultimately in the world.

Below are ‘soundbites’ from video-interviews with legislators attending the conference, all more or less related to the subjects of study in the FareWellDock project.

A pig is an intelligent animal. It is a sentient being. Therefore, it needs to be treated with respect (Dan Jørgensen, Danish Minister for Food, Agriculture and Fisheries)

Finding solutions in how we can produce pigs in a competive manner, but at the same time improve the animal welfare, is an extremely important task (D. Jørgensen)

Ministers Dijksma (NL) and Jørgensen (DK)
To the left: Sharon Dijksma, Minister for Agriculture, NL. To the right: Dan Jørgensen, Minister for Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, DK

Sharon Dijksma, Minister for Agriculture, The Netherlands – “Towards Sustainable Pig Farming – The Dutch Way

Dutch pigs are top quality animals: they are healthy, fertile and, if I may say so, good to eat (S. Dijksma)

Pig welfare is playing a growing role in where the Dutch pig industry is at present (S. Dijksma).

The Dutch care deeply about animal welfare. Animals have intrinsic value, i.e. value in itself, independent of people (S. Dijksma).

We are happy other countries share our conviction. Together we will be more succesful convincing the agricultural sector worldwide to put the welfare of animals first (S. Dijksma).

We must respect the animals’ physical integrity. … Physical integrity also means letting pigs keep their tails (S. Dijksma).

I call on the sector to make every effort to prevent tail biting as much as possible…. My aim is a complete ban on tail docking (S. Dijksma).

Animal welfare also means animals must be able to exhibit their natural behaviour. Pigs investigate their environment by rooting and biting. (S. Dijksma)

When we eat meat it is good to know that the animals from which our meat derives have had a pleasant life (S. Dijksma)

I’m convinced that nothing beats the taste of pork chops of a pig that really lived well (S. Dijksma)

It is wrong to put farmers in the bank of the accused ones (Christian Schmidt, Federal Minister of Food and Agriculture, Germany – “Minding Animals – Ways to Improve Animal Welfare“)

Sven-Erik Bucht, Minister for Rural Affairs, Sweden – “High Animal Welfare – A Winning Concept for Future Pig Production

We are what we eat (S.-E. Bucht)

[In EU pig production] We must focus on quality, and quality means animal welfare (S.-E. Bucht)

Good animal welfare is not about the health and well-being of our pigs. It is also about our own health, and of our children, and of our grandchildren (S.-E. Bucht)

About truely good food, we all have a lot to learn (S.-E. Bucht)

More and more the European consumer calls for animal-friendly products (Denis Simonin, Policy officer on animal welfare at European Commission)

The EU strategy for the protection and welfare of animals (2012-2015) was focused on the enforcement of the EU rules (D. Simonin)

Almost 2/3 of member states are fully compliant with welfare regulations on group housing of sows
(D. Simonin)

[In the European Commission] Work is still ongoing on the development of guidelines aiming to achieve better implementation of the use of manipulable materials (D. Simonin)

EU reference centers for animal welfare to support the enforcement of animal welfare standards
(D. Simonin)

Problems with the treatment of pigs are among the most important problems to be improved as regards animal welfare (Janusz Wojciechowski, MEP and Vice-chairman in the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development)

Pigs are very intelligent and very sensitive (J. Wojciechowski)

Esp. European pig farming is increasingly industrialised. Thousands of pigs in one place is not good for animal welfare standards (J. Wojciechowski)