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How can you prevent tail biting in pigs?

28 February 2020

Stricter regulations compel pig farmers to invest in better climatic conditions and in the well-being of their pigs. The regulations also stipulate that the docking of pigs’ tails, in its current form, will be outlawed with effect from 2030. This means that new measures are required to prevent tail biting – but where to start?  

 

The basics – tail biting in pigs

As the name suggests, tail biting occurs when one pig bites the tail of another pig, thereby causing a tail wound. More precisely, it is when one pig puts the tail of another pig into its mouth and slides it back and forth with its molars. Due to infection of the tail and spinal cord, tail biting can lead to a 2.5 per cent increase in loss according to research conducted in Italy. There are other undesirable effects, including the need for antibiotics and therefore higher costs, not to mention the strain it causes the animals themselves.

 

Causes of tail biting

Various factors play a role in tail biting, starting with the character of the pig itself. Starting from a young age, pigs have a tendency to explore and to chew. They search for food by rooting and biting. With tail biting, that same tendency is being directed towards the wrong object according to German research.
When the pigs become bored due to a lack of variation in their environment, they become attracted to the tails of other pigs. The same is also true of pigs who feel stressed or frustrated. Another factor that plays a role is the fact that pigs are attracted to the smell of blood – when they smell it, they are inclined to seek it out (so it is wise to take immediate action).

Other factors that can play a role:

  • Gender. Male pigs are more likely to be bitten than female pigs.
  • Health (and everything that influences). Pigs in poorer health are more likely to be bitten and more likely to bite.
  • Breeds and crossbreeds. Pigs with leaner meat and less back fat are more likely to fall victim to tail biting.

 

What can be done?

Prevention is better than the cure. If you notice that many of your pigs are walking around with their tails between their legs or fewer animals have a curl in their tails, an outbreak of tail biting is lurking and it would be prudent to separate your pigs. Even more prudent would be to get off to the right start earlier by ensuring your pigs’ well-being and providing stimulation. Pen enrichment is key – create an interesting environment with plenty of distractions so that the pigs feel comfortable.

 

The right materials

Roughage, long straw, pruned cuttings, rope and toys can be great distractions. First and foremost you need to make sure that your pigs can access the materials that you provide. Secondly, they need to be – and remain – interesting, so ensure that you provide plenty of variation. Refresh the straw, lengthen the rope or shovel dry food pellets onto the solid floor twice a day. Note that not every toy is as effective as another. Wooden blocks or dragging a chain around will keep your pigs’ attention for only a limited amount of time.

With toys, variation is also important, as is ensuring that your pigs can play together. They are social animals after all. Providing variation need not be difficult – there are toys on the market that you can make seem like new just by changing the smell. Such simple measures can have very positive effects, helping to prevent stress and tail biting. If the pigs are happy, so are we.

 

More information about pen enrichment? Check the link below!