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.