Christine Pelland from South West Ontario Veterinary Services, Tail Biting Control Still Not A “Slam Dunk”


Tail biting has continued to be a problem that occurs in pig production despite an increase in our knowledge of techniques that can be used to prevent tail biting. Still a major “pain in the butt” on some farms from time to time. The European Union issued Directive 120/2008/EC and Recommendation (EU) 2016/336, which encourages all EU Member States to establish measures that would reduce the need for tail-docking and tail biting prevalence. Although routine tail docking is prohibited in Europe , many pigs are still exposed to docking. Docking is only allowed if there is evidence of tail biting and is applied only as last resort after other measures related to environmental conditions, space allowance or enrichment material have been implemented. Recent investigations in Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain and Denmark from 2016 to 2018 indicated that a large majority of the animals were still being tail docked.

These European researchers wanted to evaluate tail lesion occurrence in slaughtered pigs and then investigate the relationship between carcass condemnations and tail lesions. The researchers included different types of production systems and different tail lengths. The researchers also created a novel detailed tail score classification that included “scarred” lesions. The researchers believed that tail lesions could already be healed at the time of slaughter and therefore would not be detected during post-mortem inspection. Their thinking was that if a scar was seen and the tail was shorter than usual that there was sufficient evidence to conclude that the pig had been tail bitten earlier in life.  A total of 9189 pigs from 73 batches with different tail lengths (undocked; docked mid-length; fully docked) and from distinct production systems (conventional; conventional antibiotic-free and organic) were collected at a Spanish abattoir.

The researchers found the following:

  • Batches with higher tail lesion scores had a significantly higher chance of total condemnation and total condemnation due to spread of bacteria in the carcass via the blood (pyaemia)
  • Probability for partial carcass condemnations and more specifically partial carcass condemnation due to abscesses increased significantly with higher scarring scores.
  • Pig carcasses that were docked at mid-length and undocked carcasses presented significantly higher odds to be condemned due to abscess.
  • Organic farms showed a higher probability of total condemnations.

Take Home Messages:

  • Increased tail lesion scores were correlated with increased carcass condemnations
  • Tail lesion scores were influenced by the tail docking procedure and type of production.
  • These findings confirm the findings of previous studies and further confirm that control of tail biting continues to be a production challenge
  • Although much progress has been made in identifying management factors that can help to control tail biting  it is still not consistently a “slam dunk” on every farm.

Reference: Alice Gomes , Claudia Romeo , Sergio Ghidini , Madalena Vieira-Pinto  The Relationship between Carcass Condemnations and Tail Lesion in Swine Considering Different Production Systems and Tail Lengths  Animals (Basel) . 2022 Apr 7;12(8):949. doi: 10.3390/ani12080949.