Tail biting in pigs

If left unattended and untreated, tail biting can become a serious welfare issue and it can negatively impact farm profitability. Learning to recognise, prevent and treat this serious vice is an ongoing managerial function.


What is tail biting? 

Tail biting is a serious condition of mutilation that is very uncomfortable and painful. The natural pecking order of the pen is often destroyed, and production performance is negatively affected.

Tail biting is defined as any kind of behavioural abnormality by one pig that leaves a scratch, laceration, mark, or wound on the tail of another. If the behavioural disorder is left untreated, tail biting can spread throughout the herd and can result in painful injuries, infections, and even lameness.


What are the causes of tail biting? 

The causes are mostly multifactorial and often a single trigger mechanism causes a cascade of events leading to the outbreak. One or more pigs may be affected in a single pen and often the tail biting progresses to more than one pen in a house. Weaned pigs and grower pigs are mostly at risk and often the vice is seen in young replacement gilts, especially after sorting to condition and purpose.

Anyone that has ever walked through a pen of pigs knows they are inquisitive, using all their senses, especially taste and smell to investigate their surroundings, coupled with a natural tendency to chew.

There are several possible contributing factors to tail biting and identifying the particular root cause is crucial in finding a solution to the problem.

In a recent discussion, our veterinarians and nutritionist identified the following reasons that most commonly cause tail biting:

  • A lack of enrichment material. Pigs have a strong need to explore their environment and to search for food (sniffing, biting, and chewing). If they cannot do this, they get bored.
  • Poor ventilation and air quality. Fluctuating temperatures as well as poor ventilation, often associated with an increase in airspeed velocity in environmentally controlled houses or the presence of noxious gasses in badly controlled dunging channels can cause considerable stress in pigs and can lead to tail biting.
  • Competition. Overcrowding – this is also called greedy man’s pig disease. A lack of floor space and most important feeding space leads to frustration and consequently, aberrant behaviour patterns occur.
  • Poor diet. Most often salt, fibre, and calcium/phosphorous levels are not optimal, but low protein levels have also been incriminated.
  • Poor Health. The presence of disease, especially chronic situations like mycoplasma pneumonia or ileitis can cause tail biting. There could be numerous other causes and a very good welfare audit is often required to find the trigger.

Being able to identify any of these issues before they pose a problem can help to significantly reduce the probability of tail biting occurring and can have a positive impact on the health of your herd overall.


How can tail biting be prevented? 

In addition to considering and preventing the risk factors mentioned above, alternative strategies for preventing and managing tail biting include:

  • Provide enrichment material. Introducing enrichment material to your pig pens can help reduce the occurrence of tail biting, particularly at the two-stage level. It is important to note that all enrichment material provided must always be clean and if possible disinfected between batches, and replenished frequently.
  • Reduce stocking densities and provide additional feeding space by introducing more self-feeders in a pen.
  • Ensure your herd is healthy – book a consultation with your veterinarian if needed.
  • Improve flushing techniques and frequencies.
  • Re-asses your fly control. Biting flies are very irritating creatures in many pig houses.
  • Check your ventilation/curtains/heaters and consider installing ceilings if your buildings do not have them.
  • Remove the pigs that have been bitten and treat them or try to identify the biter and remove it from the group.
  • Should all risk factors have been taken into account, and preventative strategies implemented with no discernible effect, tail docking can be considered.


What is tail docking? 

Tail docking is the action of removing part of a pig’s tail to prevent or reduce the risk of tail biting in a herd. Most South African producers practice docking. Welfare concerns, especially in the EU countries may result in the ban of routine docking practices.

Where tail docking has been deemed to be necessary, it is usually only permitted with the intervention and guidance of a trained operator or veterinarian, on pigs no more than seven days old.

Under the SA Pig Welfare Code, tail docking is listed as one of the routine procedures that may be performed by stock workers and owners, provided that the pig is no more than seven days of age. Most producers cut tails before or on three days of age. Should the pig be any older, the tail docking procedure must be carried out by a veterinarian.


What can the producer do?

  • Purchase the right tools for the docking procedures.
  • Ensure that the tools are sharp and that tail docking pliers are patent.
  • Disinfect the instruments after every action.
  • Review your technique with your veterinarian on their regular visits.


How Agri FARMACY SA can help?

The right tools 

Should tail docking be recommended by your veterinarian, it is important to review this recommendation for your herd every quarter and to provide any and all other materials to help manage and prevent tail biting to reduce the necessity for tail docking.

Should tail docking be the right choice for your herd, you can trust Mooivet Animal Health products to provide all the necessary equipment for the task at hand. Alternatively, should you choose to manage tail biting through other methods, our selection of preventative products includes:

Products for the treatment of tail biting include:

  • Wound oils
  • Disinfectants
  • Anti-inflammatories and antibiotics, if needed, that is recommended by our veterinary team


The right treatment 

As with all medical procedures, there is a risk of infection associated with tail docking, and if left untreated, this could result in spinal abscesses or even arthritis and may lead to possible condemnations at abattoirs.

A good herd health plan and regular on-farm veterinary visits are important to identify potential indicators of poor health that could lead to tail-biting.

Should you require veterinary involvement, simply contact our team, and one of our veterinary professionals will schedule an onsite consultation with you to ensure your herd is in the best of health. On-farm training in the correct procedure of tail docking is also available.


The right diet

Ensuring that your herd’s diet is optimal can significantly reduce the chances of tail biting occurring, and a plentiful diet rich in protein and essential vitamins and minerals can diminish aggressive behaviour and competition between pigs.

To ensure your herd benefits from a nutritionally balanced diet, Lavendula Feeds & Nutritional Solution offers a selection of customised feed solutions, all designed to optimise your herd’s performance and ensure their good health

Calming products can be added to the diets. A product such as Acid Buf has successfully been used as a preventative in weaner rations.

From veterinary products to professional consultations and nutritional solutions, AFSA is committed to farming best practices and the ongoing health of your herd. Simply contact us for advice, or shop our product range, and give your animals the very best.




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