Pig farming

Tail Biting - what to do when pigs have a taste for tails

Tail biting is one of the most frustrating things a pig farmer has to deal with: It damages pig welfare and profits, and it can be infuriatingly difficult to control!

So to understand how best to control it we need to try and understand why it occurs. The annoyance with this subject continues when we look at the list of factors which may trigger tail biting:

  • Drafts
  • Incorrect temperature – too hot or too cold
  • Disease – especially gut irritation
  • Insufficient feeder or drinker space
  • Boredom
  • Nutritional imbalance
  • Overstocking
  • A variation in tail length within a group
  • Mixing pigs
  • Light levels
  • Etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.……….

The list goes on and on, and often it is a combination of the above factors. Pigs seem to have a threshold, they will tolerate so much but once that threshold is breached an outbreak will occur. For example they might be a tiny bit overstocked but tolerate it until a feeder space gets blocked and then they start biting. Or it might be a drafty building which they tolerate until they start scouring, and then the gut irritation takes them over the threshold and they start biting.

So what can we do?

Obviously if you can identify and address the causal factor that is a good starting point. But as I’m sure you all know once the behaviour is learnt and they literally have a taste for it, it can be very difficult to break the habit. So once you have addressed the causal factors there are several other things you can do to manage the impact of the biting behaviours:

  1. Identify and treat pigs bitten pigs: All pigs with a tail bite should receive an anti-microbial injection to stop infection from the wound.
  2. Pigs with serious bites should be removed into separate accommodation as their injury could encourage more pigs to investigate and develop the behaviour.
  3. Put extra enrichment into the pen. Pigs love things they can really get their teeth into: Cardboard boxes, wellingtons, footballs, pig toys etc.
  4. Swap enrichment every couple of days – pigs get bored quite quickly so changing enrichment keeps their interest and stops them biting one another.
  5. If possible reduce stocking density: even if this wasn’t the primary cause, it generally helps!

One of the best types of enrichment that you can provide them is soil. Rooting through soil seems to satisfy pigs: it is one of their most natural behaviours, it can deliver minerals they may be craving, and it contains lots of different tastes, smells and textures which keeps pigs entertained. It’s one of the few things they never seem to get bored of. With solid floor housing you can tip a bucket of soil in each pen daily and I have seen some excellent result on slats with people who bolt troughs down and fill them with soil.

Obviously the best way to deal with tail biting is prevention. Ensuring pigs have sufficient pen space, feeder space, drinker space, enrichment, ensuring the environment is the correct temperature with no drafts, ensuring they are in good health etc. These things will obviously always help. But sometimes the best stockmen and vets will scratch their heads looking at healthy pigs in the nicest environments, which are biting for a reason we just cannot deduce. So take heart, the vast majority of people will experience tail biting at some point, but proactively managing it will minimise the impact on the health and welfare of your pigs, and then minimise the impact on your profits.

For further information please contact Zoetis UK Limited, Walton Oaks, Dorking Road, Tadworth, Surrey KT20 7NS. www.zoetis.co.uk Customer Support: 0845 300 8034. Use medicines responsibly (www.noah.co.uk/responsible). Date of preparation: February 2018. AH102/18