Tag Archives: interview

FareWellDock publication list

At present the FareWellDock website has 97 blog posts (like this one).

We are drafting our final report and finalising our publication list. Here you can find the FareWellDock publication list. At present we are heading towards 28 peer-reviewed scientific publications, 6 book chapters, 35 conference contributions, 16+ farm-magazine articles, 14 training sessions and several other communication activities (internet and radio).

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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.

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.

Overview of research on tail biting in pigs

The German Federal Research Institute for Animal Health (FLI) has reviewed current research on tail biting in pigs.

The report entitled “Übersicht über Untersuchungen zum Themenkomplex „Schwanzbeißen” makes specific recommendations as to how to best tackle the tail biting problem. The report also has an extensive appendix (under ‘documents’) listing projects, main project results and references on tail biting.

Twenty-six different research projects were counted in Germany alone. Many other projects were also listed in other EU countries (The Netherlands, Belgium, UK, Ireland, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Spain and Hungary). Also the EFSA and FareWellDock activities were noted, as well as the International Pig Welfare Conference in Denmark in April 2015 (see our Soundbite posts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5).

The report has a detailed list of recommendations split for the farm and regional level. At farm level risk assessment, gradual reduction of tail docking, networking, demonstration farms, and trying-out of practical solutions to prevent and treat tail biting are mentioned. At the regional and national level the report mentions the collection and distribution of knowledge in various ways, the coordination of activities, the building of networks of tail biting experts, education/training, the installation of an information platform and the support of research projects using standardised protocol and cooperation with other EU countries.

The report noted a trend for tail biting to start at rather earlier ages (shortly after weaning, but also even before weaning, as has previously been observed by Dr. Ursinus).

It was also noted that on average 70% of the pigs used in the 26 research and field projects in Germany had severe tail lesions. Since these projects were focussing on (improvements of) current housing conditions, it may be questioned whether and to what extent current systems are suited to finally succeed in stopping completely the current practice of tail docking.

Soundbites Pig Welfare Conference: 2. Presentations

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 you find ‘soundbites’ from conference presentations, all more or less related to the subjects of study in the FareWellDock project.

The Welfare Challenges Facing The Pig Sector
Peter Stevenson, Chief Policy Advisor of Compassion in World Farming, UK
Interview (video):
We have created a society where farmers’ margins are so low that they often have no choice but to have very low welfare (P. Stevenson)
We need to find a way in which we can make moving to higher welfare economically viable (P. Stevenson)
The EU should protect farmers from low welfare imports (P. Stevenson)
Most pigs in EU are given no enrichment or ineffective objects such as chains. … Plastic chewing sticks & balls are not effective enrichment (P. Stevenson)
An intact curly tail may well be the single most important animal-based welfare indicator in finishing pigs (EFSA update 2011, cited by P. Stevenson).
The average benefit of raising uncastrated pigs is around €5 per pig due to better feed conversion (EC, 2013, cited by P. Stevenson)
Consumers can drive animal welfare improvements – Don’t keep them in the dark (P. Stevenson).

Could Animal Production Become a Profession?
David Fraser, Professor, University of British Columbia, Canada
Interview (video):
Could pig producers function more like professionals and less like an industry? Professionals set their own standards. (D. Fraser)
The best common people are the agricultural population, so that it is possible to introduce democracy as well as other forms of constitution where the multitide lives by agriculture or by pasturing cattle. Aristotle, “Politics” (cited by D. Fraser).
In the past half century, animal agriculture in the U.S. has been taken over by corporations, turning family farms into factory farms (Farm Sanctuary, 2009, cited by D. Fraser).
Farm animal health levels: Piglet deaths: 0-50%; bursitis: 0-83%; sow mortality: 0-20%; dairy cow lameness 0-85%; broiler lameness: 0-90% (D. Fraser).
Animal welfare reforms have been modeled on worker welfare legislation that regulated the physical environment and exposure time in factories (D. Fraser).
Shifting animal production toward a professional model is a more promising approach to improving animal welfare and maintaining public trust in animal producers (D. Fraser).

Assessment and Alleviation of Pain in Pig Production
Sandra Edwards, Professor, Newcastle University, UK

Sandra Edwards
Sandra Edwards, Professor, Newcastle University, UK

Interview (video):
We need a very strong ethical justification for continuing farm-management procedures which are painful to animals, and look very actively for ways to reduce their necessity (S. Edwards)
Is castration necessary? Not all countries now think so (Backus et al., 2014), but sometimes it may be (S. Edwards)
What links castration, tail docking and gastric ulcers in pigs? Pain (S. Edwards)
Tail docking: Historically (and often currently): A surgical procedure carried out on young piglets with no pain relief (S. Edwards)
Does Tail docking Cause Pain? Many farmers believe not (or only insignificant) (S. Edwards)
30% of finishing pigs and 50% of culled sows have gastric sulcers (score >6). Gastric ulcers are acutely painful in humans. (S. Edwards)
Conclusion: The occurrence of pain compromises animal welfare
– It must be actively addressed.
– “Suppress, Substitute, Soothe”
(S. Edwards)
A reliable method for on-farm pain assessment is needed (S. Edwards)

Neonatal Piglet Mortality in Relation to Sow Farrowing Environment
Lene Juul Pedersen, Senior Researcher, Aarhus University, DK

Lene Juul Pedersen
Lene Juul Pedersen, Senior Researcher, Aarhus University, DK

Interview (video):
Genetic selection for increased littersize in Danish pig production has resulted in problems with piglet mortality that need to be solved, either by changing the breeding goal (to heavier piglets) and/or intensified piglet care (L.J. Pedersen).

Increased piglet mortality is not an innate problem of farrowing pens where sows can freely more around (L.J. Pedersen).
Piglets are born in a thermally insufficient environment (L.J. Pedersen).

Animal welfare in organic pig production
Jan Tind Sørensen, Professor, Aarhus University, DK
Interview (video):
Organic pig production does well on naturalness, welfare perception and low antibiotics use, but needs to solve problems with piglet mortality, endoparasites and castration (J.T. Sørensen).
Scientists cannot solve animal welfare. Politicians either. We need to collaborate to improve pig welfare (J.T. Sørensen).
Lameness prevalense in organic sow herds is higher during summer (Knage-Rasmussen et al 2014, cited by J.T. Sørensen).
High piglet mortality in organic pig production (Sørensen & Pedersen 2013, cited by J.T. Sørensen)
Organic pigs may be more resistant to Salmonella infections
(Bonde & Sørensen 2012, cited by J.T. Sørensen)

The Intelligent Pig Barn
Anders Ringgaard Kristensen, Professor, University of Copenhagen, DK
Interview (video):
Sensor technology is one of the ways forward in pig production (A.R. Kirstensen)
The intelligent pig barn – PigIT – Welfare problems considered: diarrhea, fouling and tail biting (A.R. Kirstensen).

The Danish Pig Welfare Action Plan
Per Henriksen, CVO, Danish Veterinary and Food Administration, DK

The use of animal welfare indicators
Jeremy Marchant-Forde, Research Animal Scientist, USDA-ARS, USA
Interview (video):
Scientists in the EU interact more with policymakers, while the US has closer links with producers (J. Marchant-Forde)
From 2005 to 2050 the global demand for meat will raise: poultry from 82 to 181M tonnes, beef from 64 to 106M, and pork from 100M to 143M tonnes (43%) (J. Marchant-Forde).

The Danish Animal Welfare Index Project
Björn Forkman, Professor, University of Copenhagen, DK
Interview (video):
The Danish Animal Welfare Index is animal-based, compares welfare across years and is based on a definition of welfare in terms of feelings (B. Forkman)
The Danish pig welfare conference showed an astonishing interest in pig welfare (B. Forkman).
“Happy pigs are dirty” (B. Forkman)

Ethical Meat Production & Consumer Response
Athanasios Krystallis Krontalis, Professor, Aarhus University, DK
Interview (video):
What people believe, sometimes is irrevant to the way they behave (A.K. Krontalis)

The social desirability effect implies that we tend to stay on the safe side, hiding what we really believe about something and simply reproducing stereotypes. So people have difficulty saying I don’t care about animal welfare (A.K. Krontalis).
It will take a lot of effort to reveal the real opinions of people generally [regarding animal welfare] (A.K. Krontalis).
29.149 food products launched with the claim “ethical” on their description (top-10 categories, all European countries) (Mintel Gnpd, Apr. 2013 cited by A.K. Krontalis).
Around 4,000 new food product launches with the term “Animal welfare” in their description. Mintel Gnpd, Apr. 2013 (cited by A.K. Krontalis).
People with weak attitudes to pig production eat somewhat more pork (A.K. Krontalis).
Not eating pork at all is not related to being critical to pork production (A.K. Krontalis).
consumers seek more information about production methods to make informed choices (Harper & Henson, 2001, cited by A.K. Krontalis)
In a EU survey (2005) consumers stated they are very rarely or never able to identify meat products from sustainable production methods (cited by A.K. Krontalis)
Ethical meat can be achieved by:
* Optimization of current production (consumer-driven)
* Development of new (technology-driven) production (i.e. in-vitro or insect-based), with questionable social acceptance potential (A.K. Krontalis).

Good welfare is good business
Jeremy Cooper, CEO, Freedom Food and Kate Parkes, Senior Scientific Officer, RSPCA, UK
Good welfare is good business (J. Cooper, CEO Freedom Food)
Freedom Food: > 3.5k members, 1 billion terrestrial farm animals, > 2k labelled products, almost 1/3 of UK pigs, 50% of UK eggs, > 70% of Scottish salmon (J. Cooper)

The effects of stockperson education and training on farm animal welfare
Paul Hemsworth, Professor, University of Melbourne, Australia
Attitudes tend to direct our behaviour or, at least, our intended behaviour (P. Hemsworth).
The best way to predict how stockpeople will interact with their animals is by knowing what their attitude is toward the activity itself (P. Hemsworth).
To target ‘stockmanship’ both technical and behavioural training of stockpeople are necessary! (P. Hemsworth).

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.

Media coverage


Coverage of the project startup:

FI: Telkanranta, H. (in prep. 2014). Uusi EU-tutkimushanke tähtää tulevaisuuteen ilman hännäntypistystä (New EU-project aims at a future without tail docking). KMVET

DK: New EU project to reduce tail biting, docking in pigst (Feedstuffs, the weekly newspaper for agribusiness (Dec 2013)

DK: New EU project to reduce tail biting, docking (Pig Progress, Dec 4, 2013)

NL: Waninge (In prep.) Prikkelvoer – Opvoeding biggen leidt tot minder staartbijten (Stimulation feed – Rearing of piglets reduces tail biting). Varkens (Interview with Prof. Valros).
Op weg naar coupeervrij Europa (Towards a docking-free Europe) (Varkens, Dec 5, 2013)

SE: Dr. Stefan Gunnarsson of SLU was interviewed about the FareWellDock project on Sveriges radio (17-7-13, in Swedish).

UK: See the post on the UK’s media coverage to the press release issued by SRUC.