Tail docking is a common practice to prevent tail biting in conventional pig production. However, societal involvement in animal welfare is increasing. Therefore stopping with tail docking in conventional pig production might be necessary.The aim of this study was to investigate experiences and perceptions of conventional and organic pig farmers regarding tail biting and their attitude towards tail docking.
Tail docking is a common practice to prevent tail biting in conventional pig production. However, societal involvement in animal welfare is increasing and tail docking is no longer accepted by animal welfare organizations. Therefore stopping with tail docking in conventional pig production might be necessary. The aim of this study was to investigate experiences and perceptions of conventional and organic pig farmers regarding tail biting and their attitude towards tail docking. Ten conventional and ten organic farmers were interviewed with a questionnaire regarding occurrence of tail biting, curative and preventive measures, tail injury treatments, factors affecting the risk of tail biting, role of enrichment materials and tail docking.
Tail biting was present at all participating conventional farms and at 80% of the organic farms, mostly in the form of outbreaks, starting at 10-14 weeks of age on average. Providing enrichment was considered as effective to prevent and reduce tail biting, most effective enrichment according to farmers was rope, straw, roughage, or a chain with wood. Removing of biting pigs was effective to reduce tail biting. Tail docking and the use of a calm breeding line were effective to prevent tail biting. Only conventional farmers consider teeth clipping effective as curative and preventive measure. Farmers mentioned health status, feed ingredients and saturation rate, climate conditions, and stocking density as factors with the highest effect on the risk of tail biting.
Tail docking is seen as a small societal issue and stopping with tail docking at conventional production farms will never or only on the long-term be possible according to farmers. The responsibility to stop tail docking should be taken by all stakeholders in pig production. Farmers mentioned extra costs and labour, and applicability of enrichment materials as most obstructive bottlenecks to stop tail docking. Most conventional farmers would only try to stop with tail docking when research has shown that it is not resulting in large increases of tail biting.
Experience of farmers regarding tail biting generally corresponded to scientific literature, indicating that farmers are well known with measures to prevent and reduce tail biting and factors that are affecting the risk of tail biting. However, they were not convinced that it would be possible to stop with tail docking in the short-term in the conventional production system without a strong increase of tail biting.
Student: AP van den Bogert
Supervisors: dr ir E Bokkers (APS), dr ir K Eilers (APS), ir G van der Peet (ASG)