Which is the most preventive measure against tail damage in finisher pigs: tail docking, straw provision or lowered stocking density?

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One challenge of intensive pig production is tail damage caused by tail biting, and farmers often decrease the prevalence of tail damage through tail docking. However, tail docking is not an optimal preventive measure against tail damage and thus, it would be preferable to replace it. The aim of the current study was to investigate the relative effect of three possible preventive measures against tail damage. The study included 112 pens with 1624 finisher pigs divided between four batches. Pens were randomly assigned to one level of each of three treatments: (1) tail-docked (n=60 pens) v. undocked (n=52 pens), (2) 150 g of straw provided per pig per day on the solid floor (n=56 pens) v. no straw provided (n=56 pens), (3) stocking density of 1.21 m2/pig (11 pig/pen; n=56 pens) v. 0.73 m2/pig (18 pigs/pen; n=56 pens). Tail damage was recorded three times per week throughout the finisher period by scoring the tail of each individual pig. A pen was recorded as a tail damage pen and no longer included in the study if at least one pig in a pen had a bleeding tail wound; thus, only the first incidence of tail damage on pen level was recorded. Data were analysed by a Cox regression for survival analysis assuming proportional hazards. Results are presented as hazards, and a higher hazard means that a pen has a higher risk of tail damage and of it happening earlier in the finisher period. Pens with undocked pigs had a 4.32-fold higher hazard of tail damage compared with pens with docked pigs (P<0.001). Pens with no straw provided had a 2.22-fold higher hazard of tail damage compared with pens with straw provided (P<0.01). No interactions was seen between the treatments, but the effect of tail docking was higher than the effect of straw provision (P<0.001). Stocking density did not have a significant effect on the hazard of tail damage (hazard rate ratios (HRR)=1.67; P=0.064). However, a combination of straw provision and lowered stocking density showed a similar hazard of tail damage as seen with only tail docking (HRR=1.58; P=0.39). In conclusion, tail docking and straw provision were preventive measures against tail damage, and tail docking reduced the risk more than straw provision. A combination of other preventive measures is necessary to reduce the risk of tail damage in undocked pigs to the same level as in docked pigs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1260-1267
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2018

    Research areas

  • finisher pigs, tail damage, tail docking, straw provision, stocking density

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