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Tail docking in piglets is a routine practice in most of the European countries and many other countries outside Europe. Tail docking is performed routinely to reduce the tail biting risk. Tail biting is a common and serious welfare problem in pig production, causing large economical losses. More importantly tail biting in pigs indicates underlying welfare problems. However, tail docking is painful, and does not prevent tail biting totally.
Under common intensive farming conditions, tail docking generally reduces the frequency of tail biting, but does not completely eliminate the problem, especially when underlying causes for the tail biting problem remain unresolved. The acute welfare risk of tai docking may appear to be much less than the welfare risk arising during and after tail biting outbreaks. The researches have shown that, apart from acute physiological and behavioral responses, tail docking may also elicit long-term effects on weight gain, tail stump sensitivity and animal freedom to express their normal behavior.
The EU Directive 2008/120/EC sets standards for the protection of production pigs, including the prohibition of tail docking as a routine procedure. Of the member countries, only Finland and Sweden, and of non-member countries, Norway and Switzerland, have succeeded in breeding pigs with tails. This success is due to maintaining high standards with regard to many of the related recommendations. These factors include access to rooting material, the correct temperature and air quality, a good state of health, feeding and reducing competition for fodder and space.
In Finland national legislation has banned tail docking completely since 2003. In a recent research conducted from University of Helsinki, Finnish farmers have been asked, how they manage to raise pigs without tail docking. The farmers have emphasized correcting of feeding-related issues, identifying and removing the biting pig as most important intervention measures, and straw as the most important manipulable material for prevention of tail biting.
Finland has very high animal health standards basically due to due to the northern climate, the reasonably low density of livestock farms, and long distances. Long-term prevention care made it possible to eradicate major pig diseases, there have been stricter guidelines to control disease like PRRS. Moreover, Finland has a zero-tolerance policy towards Salmonella.
High-quality optimized feed is essential during the various phases of production. In Finland most of the pig farm are adjusted to liquid feeding system, which allows to feed animals at the same time and reduce competition. Sufficient drinking and feeding spaces prevent aggression. In addition, the Finnish legislation requires a minimum space of 0.65m2 / pig, but in practice Finnish large operators require well above the minimum from their contract producers.
Most of the Finnish farms have partially slatted floor pen. This, opposite to full slatted floor, provides more comfortable resting areas. Moreover, the solid part of the floors allows to provide manipulable materials, which in Finland are mainly straw, sawdust or peat. According to the guidelines of the Finnish Food Authority pigs must have continuous access to rooting material, which they can pile, or organic material must be provided for them twice a day. Other pen enrichment methods, such as pieces of wood suspended with a chain, ropes or garden hoses also help. Some farms adjusted hay/straw from so-called hayracks on the wall of the pen, which has proven to be an effective solution. Apart from high biosecurity, some of the other extrinsic factors like temperature, ventilation, and continuously available clean drinking water, have an impact on tail biting and overall animal welfare.
Please share your experience of managing tail biting with us!