Tag Archives: The Netherlands

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

Abstract

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.

Proper enrichment for intensively-farmed pigs – From review to preview

Bracke, M.B.M. 2016. Enrichment materials for intensively-farmed pigs – From review to preview (Conference abstract & presentation, ICPD 2016). In: Kemp, B. et al., 2016. 16th International Conference on Production Diseases in Farm Animals. June 20-23, 2016. Wageningen, NL. p. 179.

Abstract

Tail biting is a well-known production disease in intensively-farmed pigs raising concern for animal welfare, e.g. related to the practice of routine tail docking. To reduce tail biting pigs are provided with enrichment materials. EU legislation requires that pigs have permanent access to a sufficient quantity of material to enable proper investigation and manipulation activities. In order to meet this directive many pigs are provided with a metal chain with or without a rather indestructible object attached to the chain. The European commission recently revised current guidelines as to what constitutes adequate enrichment, apparently moving into the direction of the status-quo in welfare schemes. Building on extensive previous work at Wageningen UR Livestock Research, especially on the modelling of pig enrichment (the so-called RICHPIG model) a review is presented of our current state of knowledge. In addition, an outline is given as to how so-called AMI-sensors, measuring Animal-Material Interactions (AMI) (semi-)automatically, can be used to assess the pig’s need for enrichment, also in relation to aspects associated with health status, such as feed restriction, biting wounds and streptococcus infection. It is suggested that the use of chains with or without rather indestructible materials such as pipes, balls or (hard)wood is generally inadequate to enrich the pens of intensively-farmed pigs. An evolutionary mechanism appears to be underlying the causation of multifactorial welfare problems in general, the issues of enrichment, tail biting and tail docking in pigs in particular. In this respect ongoing selection for increased resource efficiency has been exerting a profound impact on livestock production. Various routes are explored as to how persistent welfare problems may be resolved, including a method that has been called Intelligent Natural Design (IND).

Branched chain
Two organic pigs interacting simultaneously with a branched chain in the snow. Despite access to a straw bed for rooting, even organic pigs may interact with such chains for long periods of time, esp. directed towards the floor. In fact they will root the chain on the floor more than twice as much as playing with it in a horizontal position. In intensive pig production chains are often (too) short, and when a hockey-type ball or ‘sustainable’ plastic pipe is attached to the end of such a chain the pigs’ interest, and their welfare, is often even reduced further. By contrast, to improve the chain further 7mm stainless-steel anchor chains may be recommended for growing pigs over the cheaper c-chain shown here, as anchor chains have heavier and more rounded shackles.

See also an older previous presentation on tail biting.

Bracke, M.B.M, Wolthuis, M., Zonderland, J. J., Kluivers, M., 2011. TAILS TO TELL – Tail docking, tail biting and enrichment for pigs – Experiences from the Netherlands. Herning, DK, May 25-26, 2011.

Reducing mutilations in the European Union

A study on reducing the number of mutilations on animals within the European Union
By Sanne van Zanen (Student Wageningen University, email: sanne . vanzanen @ wur . nl)
Commissioned by the Ministry of Economic Affairs, the Netherlands

Abstract

This study has gathered information about the possibilities to reduce the number of mutilations throughout the European Union. It has focused on surgical castration of male pigs, tail docking of pigs and beak trimming of laying hens. According to literature, these mutilations have received most attention in the European Union. Furthermore, in most of the European member states these mutilations are frequently carried out. The study is performed by a graduate student of Wageningen University and commissioned by the Ministry of Economic Affairs. The conclusions of this study do not necessary reflect the official opinion of the Ministry of Economic Affairs.

This study started off with a desk research that sketched the concept of animal welfare across the European Union. A framework of factors that influence the importance attached to animal welfare resulted from this research and was used to clarify the results of the two additional studies within the broad concept of animal welfare across the European Union. The two additional studies that were performed are a literature study and a questionnaire. The literature study has focused on retrieving in-depth information on the current situation of the member states regarding the three mutilations. The questionnaire was set up to get insights into which actions have the greatest chance of success and what are the biggest obstacles in reducing the number of mutilations in animals. The questionnaire was spread, by means of an introducing email, to scientific researchers, veterinarians, policy
makers/officers, NGO’s, employees in a slaughterhouse, farmers and students across the European Union. In total 130 respondents filled out questions about at least one of the three mutilations across 16 member states (Cyprus, Bulgaria, Greece, Luxembourg, Latvia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Estonia, Lithuania, Malta, Romania and Slovenia have not taken part in the questionnaire).

United Kingdom, Ireland, Spain and Portugal nearly raise all their pigs as entire boars. In contrast to these countries, surgical castration of male pigs is the most desired option for the Italian pig market (and parts of the Spanish and Portuguese pig production). This is due to the restrictions imposed by the Parma ham industry (slaughtering pigs at
heavy weights). Consequently, the restrictions imposed by the Parma Industry and the sensitivity for boar taint are the biggest obstacles for reducing surgical castration for the Mediterranean countries. The Eastern European and Central European region do also nearly all surgically castrate their pigs and consider the restrictions imposed by the
Parma Industry and or boar taint sensitivity as an obstacle. The Northern European and Scandinavian regions have already made some efforts on reducing the number of practices by means of non-legislative initiatives. However, the biggest problem for realizing a complete stop of these regions and an additional problem of the Central and Eastern European regions is related to the absence of (inter)national acceptance of non-castrated pigs or immunocastrated pigs, which is crucial for these exporting countries. Consequently, on-line detection methods on the slaughter line of boar taint is of high importance. A legislative approach by the national government is seen by each geography region as the most successful factor for reducing the number of surgical castrated pigs, except central European region (remains unknown).

Tail docking of pigs is forbidden by national law in Sweden, Finland and Lithuania. The remaining Northern European countries do carry out this procedure on pigs, but an increasing number of legislative and non-legislative initiatives within this region show the urgency of phasing out this mutilation. The other European regions raise also pigs with docked tails, but no active initiatives could be found that aim for a reduction of this procedure. These regions consider a lack of political interest and or consumer willingness to pay for more animal friendly products as obstacles for realizing a reduction. Moreover, each region thinks of the following animal production related factors: large stocking densities of groups of pigs, floor type of housing system used and absence and or insufficient enrichment as likely being a restriction in order to realize a reduction of tail docking. A legislation approach by the national government is the most successful factor for realizing a reduction. The Central European region is an exception, because they consider a wholesale price increase by national retailers as most successful.

Beak trimming of laying hens, is already forbidding in Sweden, Finland, Austria and Denmark either by means of national legislation or as a voluntary ban by the poultry sector. Legislative and non-legislative initiatives aim for a stop in the near future or a reduction of beak trimming within the Northern European region. The other regions do
not show a sense of urgency for reducing beak trimming of laying hens. A lack of willingness to pay of consumers and political interest are seen as obstacles for reducing beak trimming within these regions. Furthermore, it seems that the husbandry systems of these regions are not ready yet to raise hens with intact beaks, because large stocking densities, breed and the housing system used are seen as the most frequent additional obstacles. A legislation approach by the national government is the factor with the greatest chance of realizing a reduction of beak trimming for most of the regions (Northern- and Eastern European regions remain unknown). The central European region considers the influence of large multinationals as most successful. Furthermore, the questionnaire results of the Eastern European region could not be used, it is expected that this region is not ready (yet) to reduce the number of beak trimming procedures.

See also Initiatives to reduce mutilations in EU livestock production. By Spoolder, H.A.M.; Schone, Maria; Bracke, M.B.M. 2016. Report 940. Wageningen Livestock Research, Wageningen.

Docking a piglet's tail using cautery (hot iron)

Executive summary

Which of the European member states have the potential to join the four front-runners?

The European member states that have the potential to become a coalition partner of the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Sweden to reduce surgical castration of male pigs, tail docking of pigs and beak trimming of laying hens within the European Union.

Thesis
S.E.J. van Zanen
March 11, 2016
Adaptation Physiology Group
Wageningen University & Ministry of Economic Affairs

In order to get animal welfare higher on the European agenda The Netherlands, Germany and Denmark reached an agreement on several animal welfare related mutilations in 2014. Sweden joined the trilateral agreement in 2015. It is expected that by means of a joint European approach the biggest win for improving animal welfare can be reached within the European context. The main research question in this study is: which European member states have the potential to become a coalition partner of the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Sweden in order to reduce surgical castration procedures in male pigs, tail docking procedures in pigs and beak trimming procedures
in laying hens? Other research questions are about the influence of the individual member states in the European Union and the key success factors and the biggest obstacles in realizing a reduction of each of the three mutilations within several geographic regions.
This study starts with a desk research that sketches the concept of animal welfare across the European Union. The result is a framework of factors that influences the importance attached to animal welfare and is used to explain the results of the following two studies within the broad concept of animal welfare across the European Union. A second desk research focuses on retrieving in-depth information on the current situation of the member states regarding the three mutilations. Thirdly, a questionnaire was set up to get insights into which actions have the greatest chance of success and what are the biggest obstacles in reducing the number of mutilations in animals. The questionnaire was spread, by means of an introducing email, to scientific researchers, veterinarians, policy makers/officers, NGO’s, employees in a slaughterhouse, farmers and students across the European Union. In total 130 respondents filled out questions about at least one of the three mutilations across 16 member states (Cyprus, Bulgaria, Greece, Luxembourg, Latvia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Estonia, Lithuania, Malta, Romania and Slovenia have not taken part in the questionnaire). Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom are the most influential member states within the European Union. Furthermore, these member states, together with the Netherlands, Denmark, Spain and Poland are the biggest egg and pig producing states and or the greatest exporting countries of pork meat.
A legislative approach by the national government is seen by each geographical region as the most successful factor for reducing the number of surgical castrated pigs, except the central European region (remains unknown).
The majority of the pigs raised in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Spain and Portugal are entire boars. In contrast to these member states, the restrictions imposed by the Parma ham industry force the Italian pig market (and small parts of the Spanish and Portuguese pig production) to slaughter their pigs at heavy weights, which makes surgical castration the most desired option. Consequently, the restrictions imposed by the Parma Industry and the sensitivity for boar taint are the biggest obstacles for reducing surgical castration for the Mediterranean region. The Eastern European and Central European region do also nearly all surgically castrate their pigs and consider the restrictions imposed by the Parma Industry and or boar taint sensitivity as an obstacle(s). The Northern European and Scandinavian regions have already made some efforts on reducing the number of surgical castration practices by means of non-legislative initiatives. However, the biggest problem for realizing a complete stop in these regions (and an additional problem of the Central and Eastern European regions) is related to the absence of (inter)national acceptance of non-castrated pigs or immunocastrated pigs, which is crucial for these exporting countries. Consequently, on-line detection methods on the slaughter line of boar taint is of high importance. It is suggested that the United Kingdom has the highest potential to be a coalition partner of the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Sweden in order to reduce the number of surgical castrated pigs within the European Union.
The majority of the geographic regions consider a legislation approach by the national government as the most successful factor for realizing a reduction of tail docking of pigs. The Central European region is an exception, because they think of a wholesale price increase by retailers as most successfull. Tail docking of pigs is forbidden by national law in Sweden, Finland and Lithuania. The Northern European region does carry out this procedure on pigs, but an increasing number of legislative and nonlegislative initiatives within this region show the urgency of phasing out this mutilation. The other European regions raise also pigs with docked tails, but no active initiatives could be found that aim for a reduction of this procedure. These regions consider a lack of political interest and or consumer willingness to pay for more animal friendly products as obstacles for realizing a reduction. Moreover, each region considers large stocking densities of groups of pigs, floor type of housing system used and absence and or insufficient enrichment as animal-production based obstacles for realizing a reduction of tail docking. It is expected that Finland has the highest potential to be a coalition partner of the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Sweden in order to reduce the number of tail docking procedures in pigs within the European Union.
The Mediterranean region considers a legislative approach by the national government as the factor with the greatest chance of success in realizing a reduction of beak trimming procedures (Northern- and Eastern European regions remain unknown). The Central European region considers the influence of large multinationals as most successful. Furthermore, the questionnaire results of the Eastern European region could not be used, it is expected that this region is not ready (yet) to reduce the number of beak trimming procedures. Beak trimming of laying hens is already forbidding in Sweden, Finland, Austria and Denmark either by means of national legislation or as a voluntary ban by the poultry sector. Legislative and non-legislative initiatives aim for a stop in the near future or a reduction of beak trimming procedures within the Northern European region. The other regions do not show a sense for urgency of reducing beak trimming of laying hens. A lack of willingness to pay of consumers and political interest are seen as obstacles for reducing beak trimming within these regions. Furthermore, the husbandry systems of these regions are not ready yet to raise hens with intact beaks, because large stocking densities, breed and the housing system used are seen as the most frequent additional obstacles. Austria and Finland are suggested to have the highest potential to be coalition partners of the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Sweden in order to reduce the number of beak trimming procedures in laying hens within the European Union.

Improving Welfare, Health and Productivity in Pigs by Optimizing Adaptation

Improving Welfare, Health and Productivity in Pigs by Optimizing Adaptation
By J.E. Bolhuis and B. Kemp, 2016. Journal of Animal Science (conference paper, March 14-16, 2016, Des Moines, USA).

Abstract

Welfare problems in pigs often arise from an imbalance between the challenges they are exposed to and their adaptive capacity. A major challenge for pigs is the weaning transition. Weaning often results in reduced growth, intestinal problems and damaging behaviors. The natural behavior of pigs and their adaptive strategies can inspire us to reduce weaning-related problems. We found that early ingestion of feed can be stimulated by facilitating information transfer from sow to piglet, both through flavor learning in utero and social learning. This early feeding, in turn, seems vital for a good post-weaning performance. Also enrichment substrates that stimulate early sampling of feed positively affect piglet performance around weaning. We are developing a multi-litter group housing system for lactating sows and their piglets in which both opportunities for sow-piglet information transfer and enrichment substrates are provided. Piglets raised in this system and kept in large groups post-weaning show improved performance until at least 9 weeks of age. Measures that facilitate the weaning transition in pigs typically also reduce the occurrence of damaging behaviors directed at pen mates, such as tail biting and ear biting. These behaviors both reflect and generate welfare problems, and are influenced by multiple factors. Apart from the impact of early life conditions, we studied the contribution of (genetic) characteristics of pigs and of their environment to the tendency of displaying damaging behaviors. Tail biting seems associated with fearfulness, serotonin metabolism and with (genetic and phenotypic) production characteristics. Excessive levels of damaging behaviors lead to reduced growth in the victims, and we therefore investigated the impact of a novel breeding strategy, targeting indirect genetic effects on growth. Pigs with high indirect genetic effects on growth inflicted less tail damage and showed less ear biting. They also seemed less fearful and showed lower leukocyte, lymphocyte and haptoglobin levels. Enrichment with straw bedding had similar beneficial effects additive to those of the new genetic strategy. On most farms it is, however, not feasible to provide pigs with straw, and we therefore studied the effectiveness of a simple enrichment material – a burlap sack – and found a twofold reduction in damaging behaviours and a five-fold reduction in the proportion of animals with a tail wound. In conclusion, – small and large – changes in genetic background, early life conditions and quality of the environment that contribute to the adaptive capacity of pigs, and reduce their stress load, can be used to improve pig welfare and performance in concert.

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.

Soundbites Pig Welfare Conference: 4. Posters

On 29 – 30 April 2015 Denmark hosted an international conference “Improving Pig Welfare – what are the ways forward?“.

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

Do increasing amounts of straw increase growing pigs’ oral manipulation of straw?
Margit Bak Jensen, Mette S. Herskin, Björn Forkman, Lene J. Pedersen
Pigs were provided with various amounts of unchopped straw (10-500 gr/pig/day) to determine the amount of straw where additional provision did not further increase pigs’ exploratory behaviour.
Increasing the straw amount from 10 to 360 g straw per pig per day increased the time pigs spent in oral manipulation of straw markedly, while increasing the straw amount above 430 g straw per pig per day had no additional effect .
Approximately 400 g long straw per pig per day maximizes straw‐directed behaviour in partly slatted concrete floor (0.7 m2/pig)

Providing various amounts of straw (10-500 gr/pig/day) showed that oral manipulation of straw increases steadily up to 360 g straw/p/d. (M. Bak-Jensen et al.)

Increasing amounts of straw increase growing pigs’ production and healthLene J. Pedersen, Mette S. Herskin, Björn Forkman, Henrik Elvang Jensen, Margit B. Jensen
Aim: To quantify the amount of straw needed to achieve health and production effects, we investigated the effect of straw amount on the prevalence of gastric ulcers and production parameters.
Animals & housing: In both experiments pigs were housed in groups of 18 per pen, with partly slatted concrete floor (0.7 m2/pig) and fed a commercial dry feed for ad libitum intake.
Conclusion: The average daily gain (ADG) increased by 8±17 g/day for every extra 100 g straw added daily (P<0.001) resulting in 42 g higher ADG at 500 compared to 10 g straw provided. The feed conversion ratio was not affected by amounts of straw. The proportion of pigs with ulcerations was reduced by permanent access to straw (7 vs. 33%; P<0.05). Based on these results, production and health parameters were improved by increasing amounts of straw to pigs kept in conventional pens.

More straw improves production (ADG) and health (ulceration) parameters of pigs significantly (L.J. Pedersen et al.)

Tail biters may have a relatively high innate immune status (Ursinus et al.)

Straw provided to growing/finishing pigs resulted in a lower prevalence of tail lesions at slaughter (Dippel et al.)
The SchwIP management tool for tail biting in fattening pigs: a comprehensive approach for a complex problem (Dippel et al.)
Farm specific reports with causal explanations facilitate farmer engagement and knowledge transfer (Dippel et al.)

Tail lesions on carcasses of Irish slaughter pigs in relation to producer association with advisory services
N. van Staaveren, D. L. Teixeira, A. Hanlon and L. A. Boyle
The high prevalence of moderate tail lesions in a large proportion of batches of slaughter pigs suggests that chronic tail manipulation is a widespread problem. The large variation between batches indicates that there is good scope for improvement in the housing and management of pigs to reduce this behaviour on Irish farms. Given the economic and welfare implications of even moderate tail lesions it would benefit producers to receive information from the factory on such lesions recorded during meat inspection. This could help inform farm management plans and enable intervention before the behaviour escalates into tail biting.
The high prevalence of moderate tail lesions in a large proportion of batches of IE slaughter pigs suggests that chronic tail manipulation is a widespread problem (Van Staaveren et al.).
The large variation in tail biting between batches indicates that there is good scope for improvement in the housing and management of pigs to reduce this behaviour.
It would benefit pig producers to receive information about tail lesions recorded during meat inspection. This could help inform farm management and enable intervention before the behaviour escalates into tail biting (Van Staaveren et al.).

Experiences with Intact Tails in Well-Managed Conventional Herds
H.P. Lahrmann, T. Jensen, E. Damsted
Even in well-managed herds in average one out of two pigs is at risk of getting a tail lesion between 7-85 kg (Lahrmann et al., pilot study in DK).

Straw Use and Prevention of Tail Biting in Undocked Pigs – a Survey of Housing and Management Routines in Swedish Pig Farms
Stefan Gunnarsson, Beth Young and Rebecka Westin
The Swedish farmers reported limited problems with tail biting in finishing pigs. In nurseries tail biting was rarely observed.
Straw was provided to the pigs more or less daily.
Distribution of straw caused no problems with the manure system in 58% of the nurseries and in 81% of the finishing units (Gunnarsson et al.).

The Effect of an Enriched Environment on Biting Behavior and Performance of Finishing Pigs with Intact Tails
A. Bulens, S. Van Beirendonck, J. Van Thielen, N. Buys, B. Driessen
Pigs performed better in pens enriched with hanging toy, straw blocks and hiding wall: pigs had higher body weight at 90 kg and at 120kg, and showed less frustration and less tail manipulation. (Bulens et al.)

Curly Tails: the Dutch Approach
Marion Kluivers, Carola van der Peet, Anita Hoofs, Nienke Dirx, Nanda Ursinus, Liesbeth Bolhuis, Geert van der Peet
Dutch Curly Tails project aims at closing the gap between science and practice, and relieving the anxiety and scepticism about keeping pigs with long tails in current systems.
During the first year researchers and animal caretakers developed a mutual understanding that enabled putting scientific knowledge into practice (Kluivers et al.)
Costs and labour of keeping pigs with intact tails should not be underestimated (Kluivers et al.)
Biting behaviour can already start in the farrowing unit (Kluivers et al.)
Coaching, creating trust, transferring knowledge are essential in the process towards keeping pigs with long intact tails (Kluivers et al.)

How to solve a conflict without getting into a fight? Space for conflict resolution should not be regarded as an unnecessary luxury (Camerlink et al.)

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)

Reducing tail docking in the Netherlands

On April 4, 2014 the Dutch Secretary State of Economic Affairs, Sharon Dijksma, reported to the Dutch parliament the following on the issues of tail docking and tail biting in pigs:
Firstly, research has been commissioned on tail biting and tail docking in pigs (2013-2017).
Secondly, steps have been taken to reduce tail docking in practice (Van Dekken, 28286, nr. 666).
The House of Parliament has asked the government to negotiate an end date for tail docking together with the stakeholders who signed the Declaration Dalfsen.
Since early 2013 the European Commission is working on a plan to address routine docking of piglets at the European level. In parallel, the Dutch pig sector organisations LTO and NVV, and the Dutch Society for the Protection of Animal together drafted and signed the Declaration of Dalfsen, which was presented on June 10, 2013. The Declaration focuses on the prevention of biting , the gradual reduction of short tail docking, leading finally to the responsible ending of the practice of tail docking . It is a process in which partners have expressed trust in each other. These are important steps in the right direction. The Animal Welfare policy note states that the declaration is endorsed and supported by the funding of research. In about two years this research is likely to provide insight if and which promising solutions exist. At that point in time more will be known about the progress made at the European level. At that time the Secretary of State and the partners of the declaration will determine a realistic deadline to responsibly stop the tail docking of pigs.
Finally, as to the strict compliance of the EC Directive on pig welfare in Europe (Ouwehand, TK 21501-32, nr. 750): The House of Parliament has asked the government insist that the European Commission will move towards strict enforcement of animal welfare guidelines and reports on compliance in the Member States. This is related to signs of non-compliance of the Directive by several Member States and more specifically in the areas of tail docking and the routing filing of canine teeth.
With a view to improving the implementation and enforcement of the Directive lying down minimum standards for the protection of pigs (2008/120/EC), the Commission – partly based on the Dutch request – started the development of guidelines supplementing the Directive, including a guideline on tail docking. These guidelines (which are expected to be completed this year) are expected to improve enforcement and compliance.

Pig on arm
Piglet on arm

Branched chains as enrichment for pigs (technical description, pictures and video)

This post illustrates the so-called branched chain design. This is an improved type of chain that seems most suited as a starting point towards providing proper enrichment (as required by e.g. EU legislation) for conventional, intensively-farmed pigs. However, also pigs on straw may benefit from such chains. Below the description of the branched chain design you can find some pictures and video clips of branched, anchor-type chains for pigs (conventionally-housed weaners and growing fattening pigs, and gilts kept on straw).

Specification of the branched chain design

1: Object-design: A branched chain consists of a vertically-positioned long chain with its end resting on the solid floor over a distance of 20 cm. Two or three additional chain ends (branches) end at or slightly below the nose height of the smallest and middle-sized pigs reared in the pen.
2: Material: The chains are stainless-steel anchor chains (for at least the last 5-10 links of each chain end). Recommended dimensions are 7mm for growing-fattening pigs, 5-6 mm for weaners, 4-5 mm for piglets and 8 mm for sows.
Anchor chains have links which are more round and heavier than the cheaper, more oval-shaped c-chains. Note that the indicated sizes refer to the diameter of the metal, not the diameter of the links. For example, a 7 mm anchor chain for finishers has links measuring 36×23 mm.  Preferably various chain sizes should be provided in the pen, esp. when the pen may contain pigs of variable sizes (e.g. from 25 to >100 kg). Stainless-steel anchor chains are more expensive, but only the last 5 or so links need to be replaced when worn e.g. every 5 – 10 years.
3: Availability and placement: One branched chain is provided for every 5 pigs.The chains are spaced apart as much as possible, preferably with at least one pig length between 2 branched chains in a pig pen. The branched chains are attached at the top end of the pen wall, over the solid floor, and not in the dunging area.

The description of the branched chain design was derived from: Bracke MBM, 2017. Chains as proper enrichment for pigs (incl. supplement). In: Spinka M, editor. Advances in Pig Welfare: Elsevier.

Table. Anchor-chain link dimensions

Chain link thickness (mm) Length (mm) Width (mm)
4 26.5 16
5 ~28 ~17.5 (estimate)
6 30 19
7 36 23
8 40 26
9 ~44 ~30 (estimate)
10 48 34

Pictures of branched anchor-type chains

Short chain and ball. Note the bite marks on the ball. The ball is hanging on a c-chain (oval shaped). The short chain resembles an anchor chain but isn’t (links not massive enough). Short chain, ball and branched chain made of suboptimal c-chain links. This type of branched chain uses only 1 fixation point (reducing costs). Branched anchor-type chain with 3 branches. Only top left branch is made of c-chain in order to ‘test’ pig preferences for the anchor-type chains (top right branch).
Four stainless-steel anchor chains. Two middle chains are worn by long-term use (5-10 years). Outer chains show original shape. Branched chain provided to weaned piglets Occasionally a pig will be reaching up. But normally they show downward-directed behaviour.
Branched chain for fatteners Most manipulation of the branched chains is floor directed. Both rooting and biting/chewing/playing.
Floor directed ‘rooting’. The pig’s nose really ‘fits’ a floor-directed orientation.
Also some more horizontal chewing Sometimes more pigs are interested in the same thing.
Side-way chewing (fits into cheek fold for canine teeth). Taking a whole branch (10 links) into the mouth. Three pigs all at once.
Some occasional pulling. Empty straw-bricket container. The floor plate may be used to keep a chain from getting stuck in the slats and/or repair when the floor below the branched chain gets worn. Gilt in a straw pen next to a branched chain between the lying area (front) and dunging area in the back of the pen.
Floor-directed chain manipulation may be labelled ‘rooting’ …  …not just because there is also some straw…  …it resembles stone chewing seen in outdoor sows.
A second branched chain in the same pen containing four gilts. Grabbing the chain horizontally, showing the cheek fold. A branched chain in another pen containing two gilts on straw.
Floor directed behaviour Biting the chain occasionally. Fixation of the floor chain using the right front leg. True ‘manipulation’ (as manus in Latin means ‘hand’).
 
Branched chain worn temporarily as an ‘ear ornament’. Two gilts playing with the branched chain at the same time. Anchor-chain links worn (right) by pig manipulation.

 

 

 

 

These pictures may be used for non-commercial purposes & publications provided copy-rights (MB) are acknowledged.

The video clips below show the pigs in action.

This video shows that a hockey-type ball may be frustrating for pigs, and that the branched chain design is much more appreciated, even by organic pigs.

Related posts:

Chains as enrichment for pigs (Book chapter with supplement)
Ketting als hokverrijking voor varkens (incl. link naar het supplement)
Pig animation – Improved, branched chain design as proper enrichment for pigs
Branched chains as enrichment for pigs (technical description, pictures and video)
Proper enrichment for intensively-farmed pigs – From review to preview
A collection of pictures of other enrichment materials for pigs can be found here: Prize contest (Prijsvraag) 2011.
Do pigs play with chains? Science versus society