Recording Tail Biting
Keeping records of any early warning signs and actions taken to avoid tail biting helps to identify trends and answer questions that can help inform decisions to reduce risk, including:
- How widespread is the problem – does it affect a particular building, pen or found across the farm?
- Is the problem seasonal?
- Is there a predictable time/age group for the problem?
- Is there a predictable building for the problem?
- Is there a predictable pen or pens for the problem?
- Is one source of pigs more at risk than another?
- Is one source of genetics more at risk than another?
Without records it is difficult to show whether a recent change on the unit is responsible for a change in tail-biting behaviour, or whether the change is a coincidence.
It is also a legal requirement to document evidence of tail biting and management measures taken to reduce risk.
The legislation on tail docking in pigs (Paragraph 5 of Schedule 3 of the Mutilations (Permitted Procedures) (England) Regulations 2007.) states:
"5. The procedure may only be carried out where measures to improve environmental conditions or management systems have first been taken to prevent tail-biting, but there is still evidence to show that injury to pigs’ tails by biting has occurred.”
What to record?
Information to record could include:
- Date (of arrival and dates of each check)
- Source or genetics of pigs
- Tail length of pigs (if docked or undocked, length remaining, uniform or mixed lengths)
- Pen number within building
Records can be completed per building, or per unit.
Currently, there are two recording sheet templates available for download from the WebHAT.
They enable producers to demonstrate actions taken to avoid tail biting as well as early warning signs or occurrences of tail biting.
Sheet 1 – general batch-by-batch
This general recording sheet should be filled out on a batch-by-batch basis and updated as and when necessary.
Sheet 2 – weekly diary
A building plan needs to be added to this weekly diary sheet (see figure 1 below). Producers can then identify and record the early warning signs of tail biting within the individual pens. The sheet will allow producers and vets to visually identify problem pens and common early warning signs.
Whilst still enabling producers to identify and record the early warning signs of tail biting and incidents, this sheet is more appropriate to use for continuous flow systems than the above two datasheets.
AHDB has consulted APHA on the development of these datasheets. An example of such a record sheet is given below:
What to do with tail-biting records?
Keeping records regularly can help to show whether or not there is a pattern to any tail biting occurrences. For example, comparing records with the matching time period in previous years can help identify whether there are seasonal patterns. They can also be used to highlight the emergence of tail biting behaviour at a specific age or timing, after moving to different accommodation/groups - identifying management issues to address.
If a pattern begins to emerge, the more detailed the records are the more helpful they can be in pinpointing likely risks, or the need to make further checks.
Issues in one particular building
For example, if tail biting is an issue in one particular building, things to consider could be:
- The source of pigs → check with the producer/supplier whether other units have similar issues.
If all units receiving pigs from this source have a tail biting issue, the producer should check for recent changes to address on the source unit:
- The genetics of the pigs (often linked with source) → need the producer/supplier to establish whether other sources with these genetics are also having issues
- Building environment → check on temperature, humidity, ventilation, feed supply, water supply, diet/nutrition, pen layout
Occasional issues in different pens across the farm
If occasional tail biting occurs in different pens across the farm, this can also highlight that something such as ventilation, temperature, feed supply, nutrition etc is not quite right across the farm site.
The majority of pigs may be able to tolerate the situation but individuals in some pens may turn to tail biting, indicating that the conditions are stressful for some pigs. A deterioration in the situation may tip the rest of the pigs into tail biting, for example, if the temperature changes further or something else happens, such as a feed outage.
The earlier the risk factors can be identified and dealt with, the fewer pigs are likely to be involved in tail biting – either as biters or as bitten pigs.
To view more information on identifying early signs and specific risks associated with tail biting click here.