Tag Archives: Finland

Feeding behaviour and performance in relation to injurious tail biting in boars – a longitudinal study

Feeding behaviour and performance in relation to injurious tail biting in boars – a longitudinal study. By Munsterhjelm, C., J. Nordgreen, M. Heinonen, A. M. Janczak, A. Valros. 2016. Royal Dublin Society: Abstracts book of the 24th International Pig Veterinary Society (IPVS) Congress, Dublin, Republic of Ireland 7-10th June 2016. p. 627.


Introduction: Automatically collected feeder data may be used to predict tail biting in finisher pigs.

Materials and Methods: Pen-level feeding behaviour and growth were investigated in relation to injurious tail biting (ITB), defined as visible wounds, from 10 weeks before to 4 weeks after the first ITB case in the pen. The data set included 36 pens of 10-12 intact boars between 43 and 148 kg, with average pen weight at ITB onset between 78 and 137 kg. A tail biting pen (TBPEN) had at least one case of ITB, whereas a control pen (CTR) had none. Individual feeding-related data including consumed feed, bout length and -frequency were collected by a single automatic ad libitum feeder. Time (week) relative to ITB onset was referred to as RELWEEK. The time before (PRE-ITB, RELWEEK -10 to 0, n=13 TBPEN and 23 CTR pens) and after ITB onset (POST-ITB, RELWEEK 0 to 4, n=9 TBPEN and 21 CTR) were analysed separately. Effects of TBPEN (vs CTR), bodyweight and RELWEEK were analysed using a linear mixed model with RELWEEK as repeated and pen as random effect.

Results: PRE-ITB the number of predicted feeder visits was lower in TBPEN as compared to CTR and decreased with age (PRED = -18 to -39% at RELWEEK -10 to 0; TBPEN effect p=0.02), leading to a tendency for a shorter daily time in the feeder (TBPEN effect p=0.06). TBPEN showed a growth dip to a -11% PRED level in RELWEEK -9 (TBPEN x RELWEEK p=0.001). Feeding behaviour changed in TBPEN in RELWEEK -2 to 0. Significant TBPEN x RELWEEK –interactions (p≤0.02) indicated that the relative decrease in the number of feeding bouts accelerated. Together with a progressive shortening of the average feeding bout this led to decreasing relative feed intake and growth (PRED= -10%, -7% and -8% at RELWEEK 0, respectively). POST-ITB TBPEN still spent less time in the feeder than CTR (TBPEN p=0.04), whereas the difference in the number of visits was decreasing (TBPEN x RELWEEK p<0.001). There was a tendency for a higher intake per second (TBPEN p=0.08) and a significantly faster RELWEEK-related increase in intake per visit (TBPEN x RELWEEK p<0.05), as well as increasingly faster growth (PRED= +9% at RELWEEK 4, TBPEN p=0.02) in TBPEN as compared to CTR. The amount of feed consumed did not differ.

Conclusion: Changes in feeding behaviour in TBPEN 10 weeks before ITB suggests presence of some tail-biting related factor. A growth dip 9 weeks before ITB may indicate the involvement of health problems in tail biting. Rapid changes in feeding behaviour suggest that tail biting behaviour begins or escalates 2 weeks before the first tail wounds are detected. TBPEN shows compensatory growth unrelated to feed intake in the month after ITB onset.

Poster Munsterhjelm IPVS

Effects of clinical lameness and tail biting lesions on voluntary feed intake in growing pigs

Effects of clinical lameness and tail biting lesions on voluntary feed intake in growing pigs
Camilla Munsterhjelm, Mari Heinonen and Anna Valros, 2015. Livestock Science, 181: 210–219.


• We modelled voluntary feed intake in clinically lame or tail bitten pigs.
• Age, sex, diagnosis, initial weight and eventual recovery affects feed intake.
• Feed intake starts decreasing 2–3 weeks before diagnosis.
• Feed intake decreases 10–99% from control levels in sick pigs.
• Anorexia is prolonged in lame animals not recovering to slaughter condition.


A decreased feed intake is considered one of the first signs of disease in farm animals. Feeding-related individual data collected by electronic feeding systems may thus be useful in detecting illness at an early stage. The aim of this study was to determine changes in individual-level voluntary feed intake in growing pigs before and after a bout of sickness modelled by clinical lameness or an acute tail (biting) lesion, which together count for a significant part of overall health problems in intensive pig production. The data consisted of individual records of health and day-level feed intake in fattening pigs between about 40 and 120 kg obtained from the Finnish progeny test farm. Feed was available ad libitum from automatic single-space feeders. Two time periods in relation to diagnosis (day 0), day −50 to 0 (pre-) and day 0 to +50 (post-), were modelled separately for both diagnoses using hierarchical linear models with random and repeated effects. All healthy animals in the affected animals’ pens were used as controls. The number of pigs in the different analyses were 243/551 (cases/controls, pre-tail lesion), 205/693 (post-tail lesion), 116/588 (pre-lameness) and 165/892 (post-lameness).
Feed intake in the study animals was affected by sex, weight at arrival to the farm, health status (lame or tail bitten case vs healthy control), eventual recovery (culled or dead vs recovering to slaughter condition), the day relative to diagnosis and approximate age (the day on the farm), with the four latter factors involved in multiple interactions. Feed intake started decreasing already 2–3 weeks pre-diagnosis in future lame or tail bitten animals, suggesting a common predisposing factor such as reactive coping. Feed intake decreased substantially (13–99%) from control levels in sick animals, with the level dependent on diagnosis, degree of eventual recovery and age. Lame animals ingested two to three times less than tail bitten ones at diagnosis. Within both diagnoses, culled-to-be animals ingested roughly half the relative amount of those recovering to slaughter condition, suggesting that relative feed intake at diagnosis may predict the outcome of disease. Younger animals were generally more severely affected than older ones. Anorexia was prolonged up to about 30 days in culled-to-be lame animals in contrast to all other groups modeled, which started recovery immediately upon diagnosis and initiated treatment. The observed changes and differences in feed intake may indicate differences in animal welfare.

Re­search: How do Finnish pro­du­cers deal with long-tailed pigs?

Tail biting is a common and serious welfare problem in pig production, causing large economical losses. Tail docking is performed routinely in most EU countries to reduce the tail biting risk. However, tail docking is painful, and does not prevent tail biting totally. In Finland, tail docking is forbidden. New research shows that most Finnish producers would not raise tail docked pigs if it were possible.

Professor Anna Valros led a project asking with a web-survey from the Finnish farmers how they manage to raise pigs without tail docking. Respondents scored feeding-related issues to be most important for prevention of tail biting, identifying and removing the biting pig as most important intervention measures, and straw as the most important manipulable material when preventing tail biting. Tail biting was not perceived as a serious problem by over 70% of the respondents, even though docking is not allowed, and was reported to occur close to a level which was also considered acceptable by the respondents. Most respondents did not think it is probable they would raise tail docked pigs if it were possible, but about 21 % probably would.

These results are important for trying to reduce the risk of tail biting, and subsequently the need for tail docking on an international level.

Results are published in Porcine health management – journal.

More in­form­a­tion

professor Anna Valros, anna.valros(at)helsinki.fi

tel. +358-29-4157400

Managing undocked pigs – on-farm prevention of tail biting and attitudes towards tail biting and docking,

Anna Valros, Camilla Munsterhjelm, Laura Hänninen, Tiina Kauppinen, Mari Heinonen, Porcine Health Management 2016

Tear staining is a potential tool for on-farm pig welfare assessment on commercial farms

Below is the abstract of a recent scientific publication from FareWellDock researchers:

Telkänranta H, J.N. Marchant-Forde and A. Valros. 2015. Tear staining in pigs: a potential tool for welfare assessment on commercial farms. Animal, available on CJO2015. doi:10.1017/S175173111500172X.

Tear staining
Tear staining (picture by H. Telkänranta)

Tear staining or chromodacryorrhea refers to a dark stain below the inner corner of the eye, caused by porphyrin-pigmented secretion from the Harderian gland. It has been shown to be a consistent indicator of stress in rats and to correlate with social stress and a barren environment in pigs. The current study was, to our knowledge, the first to test it on commercial pig farms as a potential welfare indicator. The study was carried out on three commercial farms in Finland, in connection to a larger study on the effects of different types of manipulable objects on tail and ear biting and other behavioural parameters. Farm A was a fattening farm, on which 768 growing-finishing pigs were studied in 73 pens. Farm B had a fattening unit, in which 656 growing-finishing pigs were studied in 44 pens, and a farrowing unit, in which 29 sows and their litters totalling 303 piglets were studied in 29 pens. Farm C was a piglet-producing farm, on which 167 breeder gilts were studied in 24 pens. Data collection included individual-level scoring of tear staining; scoring of tail and ear damage in the growing-finishing pigs and breeder gilts; a novel object test for the piglets; and a novel person test for the growing-finishing pigs on Farm B and the breeder gilts on Farm C. On Farm A, tear staining was found to correlate with tail damage scores (n=768, r s =0.14, P<0.001) and ear damage scores (n=768, r s =0.16, P<0.001). In the growing-finishing pigs on Farm B, tear staining of the left eye correlated with tail damage (n=656, r s =0.12, P<0.01) and that of the right eye correlated with ear damage (n=656, r s =0.10, P<0.01). On Farm A, tear-staining sores were lower in the treatment with three different types of manipulable objects as compared with controls (mean scores 3.3 and 3.9, respectively, n=31, F29=4.2, P<0.05). In the suckling piglets on Farm B, tear staining correlated with the latency to approach a novel object (n=29, r p =0.41, P<0.05). Although correlations with tail and ear damage were low, it was concluded that tear staining has promising potential as a new, additional welfare indicator for commercial pig farming. Further research is needed on the mechanisms of tear staining.

Tear staining
Tear staining (Picture by H. Telkänranta)

Saving the pig tail

Anna Valros and Mari Heinonen published a paper called “Save the pig tail” in Porcine Health Management.


Tail biting is a common problem in modern pig production and has a negative impact on both animal welfare and economic result of the farm. Tail biting risk is increased by management and housing practices that fail to meet the basic needs of pigs. Tail docking is commonly used to reduce the risk of tail biting, but tail docking in itself is a welfare problem, as it causes pain to the pigs, and facilitates suboptimal production methods from a welfare point-of-view. When evaluating the cost and benefit of tail docking, it is important to consider negative impacts of both tail docking and tail biting. It is also essential to realize that even though 100% of the pigs are normally docked, only a minority will end up bitten, even in the worst case. In addition, data suggests that tail biting can be managed to an acceptable level even without tail docking, by correcting the production system to better meet the basic needs of the pigs.

Valros, A., M. Heinonen, 2015. Save the pig tail. Porcine Health Management 2015 1:2.

Tail biting changes the pig brain

A recent paper by Valros et al. (2015) shows evidence for changes in monoamine metabolism in the brains of pigs affected by tail biting, both in the victims and the biting pigs.

Dissection of a pig brain


Tail biting in pigs is a major welfare problem within the swine industry. Even though there is plenty of information on housing and management-related risk factors, the biological bases of this behavioral problem are poorly understood. The aim of this study was to investigate a possible link between tail biting, based on behavioral recordings of pigs during an ongoing outbreak, and certain neurotransmitters in different brain regions of these pigs. We used a total of 33 pigs at a farm with a long-standing problem of tail biting. Three equally big behavioral phenotypic groups, balanced for gender and age were selected, the data thus consisting of 11 trios of pigs. Two of the pigs in each trio originated from the same pen: one tail biter (TB) and one tail biting victim (V). A control (C) pig was selected from a pen without significant tail biting in the same farm room. We found an effect of tail biting behavioral phenotype on the metabolism of serotonin and dopamine, with a tendency for a higher 5-HIAA level in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) of TB compared to the other groups, while V pigs showed changes in both serotonin and dopamine metabolism in the striatum (ST) and limbic cortex (LC). Trp:BCAA and Trp:LNAA correlated positivelywith serotonin and 5-HIAA in the PFC, but only in TB pigs. Furthermore, in both ST and LC, several of the neurotransmitters and their metabolites correlated positively with the frequency of bites received by the pig. This is the first study indicating a link between brain neurotransmission and tail biting behavior in pigs with TB pigs showing a tendency for increased PFC serotonin metabolism and V pigs showing several changes in central dopamine and serotonin metabolism in their ST and LC, possibly due to the acute stress caused by being bitten.

Reference:  Valros, A., Palander, P., Heinonen, M., Munsterhjelm, C., Brunberg, E., Keeling, L., & Piepponen, P. (2015). Evidence for a link between tail biting and central monoamine metabolism in pigs (Sus scrofa domestica). Physiology & Behavior.

Pig tails

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.

Fresh wood reduces tail and ear biting and increases exploratory behaviour in finishing pigs

We found e.g. that pieces of recently harvested young birch trees, suspended horizontally below snout level and with a length of 30 cm of tree stem per pig, reduced mild tail and ear biting and increased object exploration, but did not reduce severe tail biting, i.e. biting part of the tail off. Another finding was that a polythene pipe cross, suspended horizontally at snout level, also increased object exploration (as compared to controls with a simple metal chain) but did not reduce tail and ear biting, supporting earlier findings that the frequency of object exploration is not a sufficient predictor of the capacity of that object to reduce tail biting.

Telkänranta, H., Bracke, M.B.M. and Valros, A. 2014. Fresh wood reduces tail and ear biting and increases exploratory behaviour in finishing pigs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 161: 51-59(doi: 10.1016/j.applanim.2014.09.007).

Telkänranta, H. Research results on pig enrichment – The research project “New innovations for environmental enrichment on pig farms (in English, Swedisch and Finnish). University of Helsinki, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine

Start-up meeting in Helsinki

Attendants of the startup meeting in Helsinki, Finland (5 - 6 Nov 2013)
Startup meeting in Helsinki, Finald (5 – 6 Nov 2013)

The first meeting of the FareWellDock took place on 5 to 6 November 2013 in Finland, with 19 participants. The meeting was started by updating each other on the first steps of the project taken so far in each of the six countries. Plans and scheduling for the upcoming three years were discussed, including plans for internal and external communication. While FareWellDock is a project focusing on research, effort will also be made to communicate the results to end users, such as farmers and stakeholder media. Discussions on methodology to be used in the project were also on the agenda, including the new and promising welfare measure called tear-staining. Matters of terminology were brought up by raising the question whether the word enrichment may be partly misleading: it suggests luxury, while chewing and rooting are fundamental needs in pigs. Part of the time in the meeting was allocated for the participants to split into three groups, according to the three work packages of the project. This gave the researchers from each participating country an opportunity to sit together and efficiently plan details of their work packages. The intensive and fruitful two days concluded with the first meeting of the steering group, which consists of one responsible coordinator from each of the six countries. In the future of the project, meetings for the entire project will be arranged once a year, with video conferences in between.

Attendants at the startup meeting at work
Attendants at the startup meeting at work