Christine Pelland from South West Ontario Veterinary Services, Does a High Fiber Diet Reduce the Incidence of Tail Biting?

We know that having some straw in the pen with growing pigs can reduce the incidence and severity of tail biting. Certainly the pigs will manipulate the straw and this will satisfy some behavioural needs. People wonder if the behavioural benefits come from eating the straw and perhaps the increased fiber makes the pigs more calm. Adding fiber to a diet is a relatively easy fix when compared to the labour, manure system management and biosecurity risks associated with providing straw. These researchers wanted to evaluate the effectiveness of combined dietary and enrichment strategies to manage tail biting in pigs with intact tails in a conventional fully-slatted floor housing system. A 2 × 2 × 2 factorial design was used. Pigs had either a high fibre (weaner 5.3% and finisher 11.6% of crude fibre) or standard fibre diet (weaner 3.7% and finisher 5.9% of crude fibre). In the weaner stage, pigs had either a spruce wooden post (supplied in a wall-mounted dispenser) or a rubber floor toy as a enrichment device, and in the finisher stage, they had either the same enrichment device as the nursery or they switched it up to a different enrichment device in the finisher. Photo 1 Six hundred and seventy-two pigs were assigned to 48 pens of 14 pigs and followed from weaning until slaughter.

This is what the researchers observed:

  • 26 pens out of 48 had tail biting outbreaks and 161 injured pigs needed removal for treatment.
  • Pigs fed with the high fibre diet performed more tail biting (p < 0.05) and tended to have a worse tail damage scores than those fed the standard fibre diet (p = 0.08).
  • Pigs which had the floor toy as weaners and wood as finishers tended to have fewer tail lesions in the finisher stage than their counterparts (p = 0.06).
  • Pigs receiving the floor toy as enrichment interacted with the enrichment more frequently overall (p < 0.001) and performed fewer harmful behaviours in the weaner stage (p < 0.05).

Take Home Messages:

  • Using a  higher fibre diet in this experimental design did not help reduce tail biting or tail lesions.
  • Altering the fibre level in the pigs’ diet and then providing only a single enrichment device to undocked pigs on fully slatted floors actually resulted in a high level of tail biting and a large proportion of pigs with partial tail amputation.
  • Even pigs like to change up their “toys” every once in a while. A change is as good as a rest!


Submitted by Dr. Christine Pelland

Ref:  Jen-Yun Chou , Keelin O’Driscoll , Dale A Sandercock , Rick B D’Eath   Can increased dietary fibre level and a single enrichment device reduce the risk of tail biting in undocked growing-finishing pigs in fully slatted systems?  PLoS One . 2020 Oct 30;15(10):e0241619. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0241619.