Tag Archives: Tail lesions

Prophylactic use of antibiotics affects piglet welfare

Do weaner pigs need in-feed antibiotics to ensure good health and welfare?
By Alessia Diana, Edgar G. Manzanilla, Julia A. Calderon Diaz, Finola C. Leonard,
Laura A. Boyle. 2017. PlosOne.


Antibiotics (AB) are used in intensive pig production systems to control infectious diseases
and they are suspected to be a major source of antibiotic resistance. Following the ban on
AB use as growth promoters in the EU, their prophylactic use in-feed is now under review.
The aim of this study was to evaluate the effect of removing prophylactic in-feed AB on pig
health and welfare indicators. Every Monday for six weeks, a subset of 70 pigs were
weaned, tagged and sorted into two groups of 35 pigs according to weight (9.2 ± 0.6 kg). AB
were removed from the diet of one group (NO, n = 6) and maintained in the other group (AB,
n = 6) for nine weeks. Ten focal pigs were chosen per group. After c. five weeks each group
was split into two pens of c.17 pigs for the following 4 weeks. Data were recorded weekly.
Skin, tail, ear, flank and limb lesions of focal pigs were scored according to severity. The
number of animals per group affected by health deviations was also recorded. The number
of fights and harmful behaviours (ear, tail bites) per group was counted during 3×5min
observations once per week. Data were analysed using mixed model equations and binomial
logistic regression. At group level, AB pigs were more likely to have tail (OR = 1.70; P =
0.05) but less likely to have ear lesions than NO pigs (OR = 0.46; P<0.05). The number of
ear bites (21.4±2.15 vs. 17.3±1.61; P<0.05) and fights (6.91±0.91 vs. 5.58±0.72; P = 0.09)
was higher in AB than in NO pigs. There was no effect of treatment on health deviations and
the frequency of these was low. Removing AB from the feed of weaner pigs had minimal
effects on health and welfare indicators.

Weaned littermate piglets seem less socially connected and prone to becoming tail-biting victims

Understanding Tail-Biting in Pigs through Social Network Analysis

By Yuzhi Li, Haifeng Zhang, Lee. Johnston and Wayne Martin 2018. Animals 2018, 8(1), 13

The objective of this study was to investigate the association between social structure and incidence of tail-biting in pigs. Pigs (n = 144, initial weight = 7.2 ± 1.57 kg, 4 weeks of age) were grouped based on their litter origin: littermates, non-littermates, and half-group of littermates. Six pens (8 pigs/pen) of each litter origin were studied for 6 weeks. Incidence of tail injury and growth performance were monitored. Behavior of pigs was video recorded for 6 h at 6 and 8 weeks of age. Video recordings were scanned at 10 min intervals to register pigs that were lying together (1) or not (0) in binary matrices. Half weight association index was used for social network construction. Social network analysis was performed using the UCINET software. Littermates had lower network density (0.119 vs. 0.174; p < 0.05), more absent social ties (20 vs. 12; p < 0.05), and fewer weak social ties (6 vs. 14, p < 0.05) than non-littermates, indicating that littermates might be less socially connected. Fifteen percent of littermates were identified as victimized pigs by tail-biting, and no victimized pigs were observed in other treatment groups. These results suggest that littermates might be less socially connected among themselves which may predispose them to development of tail-biting.

Tool for scoring tail, ear and skin lesions in pigs

Deutscher Schweine Bonitur Schlüssel (Geman pig evaluation key, in English)

The ‘key’ provides a standardised classification for recording skin lesions.

In the course of numerous recent tail biting projects, German investigators developed a common tail and ear lesion scoring key in order to make results more comparable. The key now has a composite nature. Depending on the background of the study, lesions can be scored in different levels of detail which can be combined in order to allow analyses across projects. The provided documents include a summary key, descriptions of scores and exemplary pictures (follow this link for the document in English).

PS German guidelines for the on-farm assessment of farm animal welfare (cattle, pigs and poultry) can be found here (in German).

Docking piglet tails: How much does it hurt and for how long?

Docking piglet tails: How much does it hurt and for how long?

By Pierpaolo Di Giminiani, Abozar Nasirahmadi, Emma M. Malcolm, Matthew C. Leach, Sandra A. Edwards. 2017. Physiology & Behavior 182: 69-76.


• Short and long-term behavioural changes due to tail docking in pigs are described.
• Vocalisations suggested the procedure to be painful for piglets.
• The behaviour sampling adopted detected no changes up to 2 days post-tail docking.
• Long-term effects of tail injury on mechanical nociceptive thresholds were absent.


Tail docking in pigs has the potential for evoking short- as well as long-term physiological and behavioural changes indicative of pain. Nonetheless, the existing scientific literature has thus far provided somewhat inconsistent data on the intensity and the duration of pain based on varying assessment methodologies and different post-procedural observation times. In this report we describe three response stages (immediate, short- and long-term) through the application of vocalisation, behavioural and nociceptive assessments in order to identify changes indicative of potential pain experienced by the piglets. Furthermore, we evaluated the following procedural differences: (1) cautery vs. non-cautery docking; (2) length of tail removal. Sound parameters showed a significantly greater call energy and intensity exhibited by docked vs. sham-docked piglets (P < 0.05). Observations of general activity of the animals in a test situation failed to detect a difference among treatments (P > 0.05) up to 48 h post-tail docking. Similarly, no difference in mechanical nociceptive thresholds indicative of long term pain was observed at 17 weeks following neonatal tail docking (P > 0.05). The present results highlight the potential for the use of measures of vocalisation to detect peri-procedural changes possibly associated with evoked pain. Nonetheless, activity and nociceptive measures failed to identify post-docking anomalies, suggesting that alternative methodologies need to be implemented to clarify whether tail docking is associated with short- and long-term changes attributable to pain experienced by the piglets.

Gene expression of mechanistic pain in pig spinal cord and dorsal root ganglia

Determination of stable reference genes for RT-qPCR expression data in mechanistic pain studies on pig dorsal root ganglia and spinal cord.

By Sandercock DA, Coe JE, Di Giminiani P, Edwards SA. 2017. Res Vet Sci. 2017 Sep 28;114:493-501.

RNA expression levels for genes of interest must be normalised with appropriate reference or “housekeeping” genes that are stably expressed across samples and treatments. This study determined the most stable reference genes from a panel of 6 porcine candidate genes: beta actin (ACTB), beta-2-microglobulin (B2M), eukaryotic elongation factor 1 gamma-like protein (eEF-1), glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase (GAPDH), succinate dehydrogenase complex subunit A (SDHA), Ubiquitin C (UBC) in sacral dorsal root ganglia and spinal cord samples collected from 16 tail docked pigs (2/3rds of tail amputated) 1, 4, 8 and 16weeks after tail injury (4 pigs/time point). Total RNA from pooled samples was measured by SYBRgreen real-time quantitative PCR. Cycle threshold values were analysed using geNorm, BestKeeper and NormFinder PCR analysis software. Average expression stability and pairwise variation values were calculated for each candidate reference gene. GeNorm analysis identified the most stable genes for normalisation of gene expression data to be GAPDH>eEF-1>UBC>B2M>ACTB>SDHA for dorsal root ganglia and ACTB>SDHA>UBC>B2M>GAPDH>eEF-1 for spinal cord samples. Expression stability estimates were verified by BestKeeper and NormFinder analysis. Expression stability varied between genes within and between tissues. Validation of most stably expressed reference genes was performed by normalisation of calcitonin gene related polypeptide beta (CALCB). The results show similar patterns of CALCB expression when the best reference genes selected by all three programs were used. GAPDH, eEF-1 and UBC are suitable reference genes for porcine dorsal root ganglia samples, whereas ACTB, SDHA and UBC are more appropriate for spinal cord samples.

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.

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