Tail biting pigs

What to do when tail biting occurs?

Almost all conventional pig producers will be familiar with tail bitten pigs.
It’s called a tail biting outbreak when biting leads to multiple victims per pen, or even spreads throughout the barn.
Outbreaks are hard to stop – here is how it is possible to overcome an outbreak successfully.
Tail-bitten pigs are often noticed only at an advanced stage, when there is shortening of the tail. At this stage it is likely that most other pigs in the pen have noticed the blood and been attracted to it. That may motivate them to bite and to create new victims.

Ideally, tail biting is noticed at an early stage, before there is blood on the tail and before the tail length is reduced. This can be through either noticing the biter or noticing the victim. When a pig is repeatedly biting tails, the pig can be observed for ten to 15 minutes to see if it continues biting. If this is the case it might be better to remove the potential problem causer.

Tail posture as indicator

Victims can be recognised at an early stage by looking at tail posture.
A tail almost permanently tucked between the legs indicates it is being bitten. A briefly tucked tail can, however, be in response to other social interactions such as displacement. A good time to check tail posture is at the feeder. If the feeding is synchronised, it is easy to check all tails together. Even at an individual feeding station, if pigs are constantly seen with tucked tails when feeding, there may be a biting problem in the pen. A tucked tail should be inspected closely, if injuries are present, then it is better to act immediately rather than wait until it gets worse.

What to do?

Action to address tail biting can be through providing distraction to the group or by removing biters or victims when it is more severe. Almost anything can be used to distract pigs, but they easily lose interest. It is therefore more important to change enrichment regularly than to necessarily have the best type of enrichment. However, enrichment should be safe for the animals and not pose risks for food safety. Good enrichment materials for pigs are chewable, destructible and edible and can be manipulated by multiple pigs at the same time. Loose materials such as straw, hay and sawdust are most used by pigs, but if the housing limits the provision of these, there are other alternatives. Examples are ropes, large feed pellets (beetroot pellets), soft rubber hoses and jute sacks (burlap sacks).
    How to remove and reintroduce pigs from a group?
  1. Determine which pig to remove to gain most benefit.
  2. Remove the selected pig together with at least one other pig.
  3. Write down the pen number from which they are removed and date of removal.
  4. Provide a recovery pen without mixing with other unfamiliar pigs.
  5. When the pigs have recovered, or at least within seven days, return the pigs together to the original pen.
  6. Provide ropes in the pen at the time of reintroduction.
  7. Use scent marking spray such as diluted Dettol when pigs are returned.

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