Long tails in pig farming

Publication date: 07-12-2021

From 2030, Dutch pig farmers will no longer be allowed to cut the tails of pigs preventively. At the moment, docking is tolerated if you can prove that it is necessary at your company. Only a veterinarian can decide that docking is essential for the animals, although a lot of the pig farmers still use this option. Schothorst Feed Research (SFR) is a nutritional research company with 370 sows where more than 30 piglets are raised per year. Animal welfare is very important at SFR, because of this, it has already been decided in 2019 to stop preventive docking of tails.

SFR has been researching diverse types of feed in pigs for years, in the research observing the animals is a large and important part of the research. For years, SFR has been checking the piglet and fattening pig departments every 3 weeks for the prevalence of manipulative behaviour, evaluating any risk factors and a welfare check is completed once a year for all departments. With this research data, SFR has already been able to significantly reduce biting behaviour. Tail biting is caused by a combination of factors. This makes it a complex problem, which often requires a company-specific approach. Several risk factors that can lead to bite behaviours are ventilation, temperature changes, air quality, nutrition, occupancy rate, number of places to eat/animals, drinking water, staffing, loft enrichment, animal health and genetics.

We often talk about tail biting. In practice, there are 3 different types of biting behaviour: tail biting, flank biting and ear biting. Tail biting in SFR is most common in fattening pigs, and ear biting mainly in piglets. Little research has been done on flank biting, so not much is known about it yet. SFR has been able to watch the animals 24/7 by means of camera recordings in the barn. The bite behaviour could be clearly visualized. Because of the camera monitoring, you see much more than when this is only viewed during the normal checks. The bite behavior often starts with the sucking, here there is no damage. Nevertheless, this is a very important phase because it is important to intervene as soon as possible so that the behaviour does not become a habit. Once tail biting is a problem, it's hard to learn. In our stables it was noticed that the bite starts around the age of 2 to 4 weeks, this is because there is less space for the piglets and there is a change in the feed.

SFR has made various adjustments to minimize the risk factors. With ventilation, it is important that sufficient fresh air enters, but that there are as few temperature changes as possible. As a result, it was decided to bring the air intake at the fattening pigs to 1.5 meters from the ground with air conduction traps. Because there is no longer a direct outside air inlet, the influence of the wind is also minimized, and the incoming air is of a more constant temperature. As is to be expected, the temperature changes per season are greater, it is important to pay extra attention to this in the autumn period. The air distribution in the stables must be optimal, with an even and calm flow of fresh, clean air everywhere. This was visualized with a smoke test. It turned out that the air intake to the piglet department had to be reduced. Due to the new welfare rules, there are fewer pigs per m2, which means that there is too much air in the department. By making the air intake smaller and preheating the incoming air, the temperature change and as much as possible are limited.

The smoke test also showed that drafts can form due to small cracks. This is easily remedied by sealing off the cracks. Think also of the front of the boxes, by closing them tightly, the animals have as little trouble as possible from any drafts.

Animal health
The healthier the animals are, the less stress they have, so that the bite behaviour is also much less common. It turns out that lowering the occupancy rate (resulting in more m2/animal, more feeding space and more drinking space) in some wards managed to reduce the incidence of manipulative behaviour. By giving all animals play material, boredom is prevented, and natural behaviour is promoted. At SFR, this is done by cotton ropes and toys (see photo). In this way, the various requirements that loft enrichment must meet (e.g., edible, chewable, and degradable) are met as well as possible. A benefit of the long tails is that it gives insight into the welfare of the animals. A beautiful curl in the tail shows that the animal is happy and healthy.

When preventing tail biting, the old Dutch saying applies: "Rest, Cleanliness & Regularity! "

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