The effect of docking length on the risk of tail biting, tail-directed behaviour, aggression and activity level of growing pigs kept under commercial conditions

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Tail biting in domestic pigs relates to a range of risk factors, primarily in the pigs’ environment. Preventive tail docking is widely used, and various experimental approaches suggest that docking reduces the risk of tail biting. However, whether the docking length affects the prevalence of tail biting outbreaks is less studied, as is how a shortened tail will affect pigs’ social behaviour. The aim of this study was to investigate how three different tail docking lengths, measured at docking, as well as retained intact tails (Short: 2.9 cm; Medium: 5.7 cm; Long: 7.5 cm; and Undocked) affected tail biting risk and behaviour directed at other finisher pigs with the same docking length treatment. Tail lesions were scored weekly, as was behaviour at pen level after introduction to finisher pens and until a potential outbreak of tail biting or slaughter. Pigs from four commercial herds (258 litters) entered the study. Before the pigs entered the finisher section and data collection started, some pigs were excluded, mainly due to tail biting outbreaks in the weaner section. The risk of a tail biting outbreak differed significantly between treatments (P=0.001), with a lowered risk of a tail biting outbreak in Short pens compared with Undocked (P<0.001) and Medium (P<0.05), and was affected by herd as well (P<0.001). Pens in the Long and Undocked treatments were pooled for the behavioural analysis due to low representation, especially in the Undocked treatment. The probability of tail contacts, where a pig interacted with a pen mate’s tail, differed between docking length treatments and was highest in the Long/Undocked compared with the Short treatment (P<0.01), but docking length did not affect aggressive behaviour. Docking length affected the risk of a tail biting outbreak and the frequency of tail-directed behaviour in our participating herds, of which three reported a high prevalence of tail biting problems. Only the shortest docking length treatment (Short) reduced the tail biting risk, but did not completely prevent tail biting outbreaks.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2609-2618
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2018

    Research areas

  • tail biting, docking length, tail lesions, aggressive behaviour, pig

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