Tag Archives: Tail lesions

Characterization of short- and long-term mechanical sensitisation following tail docking in pigs

Characterization of short- and long-term mechanical sensitisation following surgical tail amputation in pigs. By Pierpaolo Di Giminiani, Sandra A. Edwards, Emma M. Malcolm, Matthew C. Leach, Mette S. Herskin & Dale A. Sandercock. 2017. Nature Scientific Reports.

Commercial pigs are frequently exposed to tail mutilations in the form of preventive husbandry procedures (tail docking) or as a result of abnormal behaviour (tail biting). Although tissue and nerve injuries are well-described causes of pain hypersensitivity in humans and in rodent animal models, there is no information on the changes in local pain sensitivity induced by tail injuries in pigs. To determine the temporal profile of sensitisation, pigs were exposed to surgical tail resections and mechanical nociceptive thresholds (MNT) were measured in the acute (one week post-operatively) and in the long-term (either eight or sixteen weeks post-surgery) phase of recovery. The influence of the degree of amputation on MNTs was also evaluated by comparing three different tail-resection treatments (intact, ‘short tail’, ‘long tail’). A significant reduction in MNTs one week following surgery suggests the occurrence of acute sensitisation. Long-term hypersensitivity was also observed in tail-resected pigs at either two or four months following surgery. Tail amputation in pigs appears to evoke acute and sustained changes in peripheral mechanical sensitivity, which resemble features of neuropathic pain reported in humans and other species and provides new information on implications for the welfare of animals subjected to this type of injury.

See also our article in PigProgreess.

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.

Tail biting app (advisory tool)

The Tail Biting “WebHAT” (Web based Husbandry Advisory Tool) is a website designed to be an interactive resource providing information about the key risks for tail biting in pigs and practical suggestions to help reduce these risks on-farm.

Taking information from evidence-based sources and scientific literature, this WebHAT identifies a number of risks associated with tail biting (a key pig behaviour), and can be used to generate a report of prioritised, key tail-biting risks found on a farm and obtain suggestions to address the specific risks identified

You can access the WebHAT tool here.

Tail biting pigs

From beak to tail – Meeting announcement

From beak to tail – mechanisms underlying damaging behaviour in laying hens and pigs

First Announcement
ISAE 2017 Satellite Meeting
Monday 7th August 2017,
University of Aarhus, Denmark

A one-day meeting, organized jointly by the FareWellDock – Network and the GroupHouseNet COST-action aims to bring together researchers working within the field of damaging behaviour in both pigs and poultry. By joining efforts on an interspecies level, we have the opportunity to greatly enhance the understanding of the mechanisms underlying tail biting and feather pecking. Both behaviours are challenging, from an animal welfare and from an economic point-of-view, while in several countries, as well as at the EU level, the ethical justification of tail docking and beak trimming is currently being debated.

This full-day meeting will be held at the ISAE 2017 congress venue on August 7th, 2017, starting at 9am.

The meeting will focus on the following main themes:

– Mechanisms underlying the link between health and damaging behaviour

– Predisposing factors for damaging behaviour during early development

Both themes will be introduced by invited experts, followed by short research presentations by participants, and then elaborated on in inter-species discussion groups.

In addition, the program will include a networking session, with the aim to facilitate knowledge exchange and future cooperation between researchers working on damaging behaviour in pigs and poultry.

The registration for the meeting will open by the end of February 2017, and will be open until May 15th, 2017. The meeting participation is limited to 80 persons, so make sure to register in time!

For further information, please contact anna . valros [AT] helsinki . fi.

From Beat to Tail – Homepage




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.

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

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.

Effects of administration of a local anaesthetic and/or an NSAID and of docking length on the behaviour of piglets during 5 h after tail docking

Effects of administration of a local anaesthetic and/or an NSAID and of docking length on the behaviour of piglets during 5 h after tail docking

By M.S. Herskin, P. Di Giminiani, K. Thodberg, 2016. Research in Veterinary Science 108: 60–67.


  • Lidocain reduced signs of procedural pain during tail docking in piglets but did not affect behaviour during 5 h after the procedure.
  • Meloxicam had only very marginal effects on behaviour of the piglets during and up to 5 h after tail docking.
  • Tail docking led to behavioural changes throughout the 5 h observation period.
  • Tail docking length affected procedural and post-procedural behaviour of the piglets.


In many countries, piglets are tail docked to prevent tail biting. The aim of this study was 1) to evaluate the efficacy of a local anaesthetic and/or NSAID to reduce pain caused by tail docking; and 2) to examine interactions with docking length. This was examined in 295 piglets docked by hot iron cautery 2–4 days after birth and based on behaviour during docking as well as the following 5 h. The study involved three main factors: local anaesthetic (Lidocain), NSAID (Meloxicam) and docking length. Either 100%, 75%, 50% or 25% of the tails were left on the body of the piglets. Irrespective of the tail length, tail docking led to signs of procedural pain, which could be reduced by administration of Lidocain. Preemptive use of Meloxicam did not affect the signs of procedural pain. The results show that tail docking led to behavioural changes throughout the 5 h observation period indicating that effects of this management routine are more persistent than earlier suggested, and suggesting that docking length may influence the post-surgical behaviour of piglets. By use of the present sites of injection and dosages, neither local anaesthetic nor NSAID had marked effects on post-surgical behavioural changes induced by tail docking. Hence, if tail docking is to be performed, more research is needed in order to develop practical methods for on-farm piglet pain relief.

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.