Identifying Early Signs of Tail Biting

In this section of the WebHAT you will find information on early warning signs on your farm that can 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 it is an early sign that individuals in some pens may turn to tail biting, indicating that the conditions are stressful for some pigs. A deterioration in the situation, eg temperature gets hotter (or colder) or another factor occurs (such as feed outage) may tip the rest of the pigs into tail biting.

Early prevention – things to look for

Awareness of these early cues that tail biting is about to happen can help with early actions to reduce tail biting. Reacting at this stage can help to prevent or reduce the impact of more severe biting activity later; once tail biting is established it is harder to manage or contain.

Scroll down to view a number of early signs associated with later tail biting behaviour, and things to look out for. Select the early signs which apply to your farm to add them to the report.

Pigs chewing on other pigs rather than straw or object

What to look for:

An objective measure of behaviour can achieved by observing the number of active pigs that are rooting or chewing straw or objects provided for enrichment and comparing against pigs rooting, chewing  or biting/fighting other pigs. If more pigs are occupied with each other than with the straw or substrate provided then there is a higher risk of tail biting (ie pigs that are choosing to be active are not provided with a suitable rooting or chewing outlet). This quick visual assessment can be done at any time of day, and is very useful to gain an idea of where pigs are directing chewing behaviours. The number of pigs active is not as important as the ratio of active on enrichment to active on other pigs.

Suggested Actions:

While this is an outcome and, therefore, hard to influence directly, it may be worth checking the quality and quantity of substrate provided and considering straw management options to ensure that the straw present is clean, non-dusty, not damp, and topped up regularly to maintain interest as a chewable substrate. Ensure that straw is stored to minimise risks of damp etc. If straw quality and quantity cannot be guaranteed, or cannot be provided for housing design reasons, consider additional options such as enrichment objects (chewable, destructible and suspended from pen sides to keep them clean and in use). Short-term distractions such as cardboard or paper bags may also be useful, but will need to be topped up regularly.

Additional material:

Welfare Quality – “Appropriate behaviour” within the Pig Protocol  

http://www.welfarequality.net/network/45848/7/0/40

Action for productivity 8. Feed and straw management to reduce the risk of mycotoxins: http://pork.ahdb.org.uk/media/39533/action-8-feedstraw-mangement-amend.pdf

EU Staff Working Document on best practices for the prevention of routine tail-docking and the provision of enrichment materials to pigs

https://ec.europa.eu/food/sites/food/files/animals/docs/aw_practice_farm_pigs_stfwrkdoc_en.pdf

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Agitated or Restless pigs

What to look for:

Be alert for groups/pens of pigs that are unsettled or restless, taking an unusually long time to settle following disturbance and milling around rather than lying down, a general impression that the pigs are rooting at or biting each other rather than objects provided, audible signs that the pigs are not settled, (eg squealing, fighting)5.

Also worth watching for unsettled individuals (eg one pig using enrichment when all others are resting, or one pig avoided by penmates), as these may indicate that they are not wholly content in the pen and may become tail biters even when the environment is suitable for the majority of pigs in the pen.

Suggested Actions:

Additional enrichment may have some short-term benefit in providing an outlet for biting and chewing behaviour, but addressing the underlying cause of restlessness is more important long-term. This may be as varied as a non-working feed system, new draughts, internal health issues, additional disturbances, or the behaviour of individuals in the pen.

If one or more pigs are noticeably restless within an otherwise settled pen, consider spray marking them for easier identification, and keep an eye on their behaviour to help decide whether to remove them or not.

Additional material:

EU Staff Working Document on best practices for the prevention of routine tail-docking and the provision of enrichment materials to pigs

https://ec.europa.eu/food/sites/food/files/animals/docs/aw_practice_farm_pigs_stfwrkdoc_en.pdf

Action for productivity 21. Ventilation http://pork.ahdb.org.uk/media/2048/Action-21-Ventilation.pdf

AHDB Pork Ventilation Guide http://pork.ahdb.org.uk/environment-buildings/pig-buildings-housing-development/ventilation/ventilating-pig-buildings-guide/

oc/3702.pdf

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Tails tucked under

What to look for:

Be alert for pigs with tails tucked between their hind legs, or tails hanging straight down rather than curled. In docked pigs, look for tails pressed down and against the rump; this can indicate that the tail or tail end is painful or tender, possibly due to earlier chewing or attention by other pigs1.

 “Guarded” tails can be most obvious when pigs are standing at the feeders, where tails may be most exposed, but can also be seen on pigs in general activity and interactions around the pen.

Tails hanging limply or tucked under are also linked to pigs that are ill, eg scouring, or pigs showing submissive behaviour, again suggesting pigs which may require additional attention and/or removing from mainstream pens - unwell pigs can easily become victims of tail biting as they are more reluctant (or less able) to move away from biting pigs.

Tails with no visible lesions may still have underlying bruising2, which may be the result of chewing or investigation by other pigs which has not yet broken the skin, but may if this continues. Once the skin is broken, the scent of blood can often trigger further investigation and chewing by other pigs.

Suggested Actions:

Once tail biting is present, the key actions are to remove and treat tail-bitten pigs, identify remove tail-biting pigs, and provide distractions for unaffected pigs to prevent them becoming interested in tails (eg ensure enrichments are available, such as the addition and regular replenishment of novel and destructible substrate, food objects or non-food objects; change of routine, change of environment) 3.

If tail biting (and guarding against tail biting) is obvious at feeders, aim to reduce competition at the feeders (pigs can learn that biting the tail in front gets them quicker access to the feeder). Aim to reduce time spent by pigs feeding and queuing at feeders, by:

  • Checking that all feed spaces receive equal quality and quantity of feed
  • Increase feed flow
  • Increase number of feeder spaces
  • Split feeders so that access to feed cannot be controlled by one or a few pigs (eg feeders on both sides of the pen, or feeders angled or head to head so that spaces cannot be controlled by one animal. Try feeders with head/shoulder protection so that pigs cannot be pushed sideways off feed)
  • Ensure all feed spaces are operating
  • Consider position of feeders (e.g. not in direct line with pigs entering a new space such as a kennel).
  • Consider additional protection for feeding pigs, e.g. raised feeders on platforms or add suspended enrichment in the area where queuing pigs are waiting, to give an alternative to chew on.

It is less usual to see competition at drinkers – but this can still be a risk, especially in hot weather or if pigs are unwell and need more water (NB If flank bites are seen, water availability should also be assessed):

  • Ensure all drinker points are functional
  • Ensure correct water flow (eg 1 litre/minute for finisher pigs4)
  • Ensure all drinker points are clean and that pigs are choosing to use them

If pigs are reluctant to approach or use drinkers, consider whether stray voltage from metal fittings may be a factor.

Additional material:

Defra code of recommendation for pigs - https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/69369/pb7950-pig-code-030228.pdf

Practical Pig Video – daily checks regarding feed and water http://practicalpig.ahdb.org.uk/wean-to-finish/daily-checks-and-monitoring/daily-checks-feed--water

 

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Ear and Body Lesions

What to look for:

Presence of pigs in the pen with lesions on the body or ears indicates a high likelihood of tail biting. The higher the percentage of pigs per pen with body, ear or flank lesions, the higher the likelihood that tail biting lesions are also present.

The term “body lesions” is used here to refer to superficial scratches and scrapes on the surface of the skin, as well as deeper injuries.

“Ear lesions” refers to ear biting injuries, likely to be caused by fighting, or by ear chewing behaviour. These ear lesions are likely to be seen as fresh scratches and scrapes on the flap of the ear, or as chewing on the ventral edge of the ear.

Crusty lesions on the ear tip are more likely to be due to ear tip necrosis which has bacterial origin and requires remedial action. If pigs dislodge the scabs from necrotic ear tips, this may instigate ear chewing behaviour.

Body marks/lesions can also be caused by locomotor play in pigs – likely causes of body marks can be determined by observation of the pen and pigs’ demeanour and activity patterns.

Suggested Actions:

Where body and/or ear-biting lesions are seen, this can be a precursor to tail biting; suggesting a lack of suitable chewable materials to manipulate (hence pigs chewing on the available extremities of other pigs). Addressing the underlying cause is the key factor in reducing these early warning signs and preventing development into tail biting.

Where ear biting is seen, introduce measures to redirect pigs’ biting activities away from each other and on to suitable substrate (eg rooting boxes) or objects (eg chewable plastics, sugar beet, wood etc). Consider removing pigs showing most ear-biting behaviour.

Follow best practice for mixing, and ideally reduce mixing events to ensure stable pig groups. Consider additional measures to reduce fighting at key times, e.g. additional distractions when pigs are removed from a group (eg to be sent for slaughter).

Where tails are docked quite short (less than 1/3 of natural length remaining), ear lesions and ear-biting behaviour may be more common, as the underlying behavioural need hter.

Additional material:

Ear tip necrosis – http://www.nadis.org.uk/bulletins/ear-tip-necrosis.aspx

Advice on Mixing pigs by J. Gadd - http://www.thepigsite.com/articles/3793/mixing-pigs-without-tears/

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Early Risks Identified

The early signs above that you have selected as present on your farm, indicate that pigs on your farm may be at risk of developing tail biting. Please click the button below that applies to you to look at more specific risks of tail biting

Pigs on straw

Without Substrate

Outdoor Finishers

Sub optimal staw

What to look for:

Straw provided for pigs should be clean and dry; straw which is excessively dusty or damp does not satisfy the pigs need for a clean dry lying area, and reduces straws properties as enrichment.

Look for:

  • Dark or brown straw when freshly provided
  • Check stored straw for dark, damp patches, mould or dustiness
  • Check pigs in pens for coughing

Optimal straw provides the key properties needed for functional manipulable material for pigs, as well as the beneficial effects of thermal and physical comfort as bedding. When straw is suboptimal it has fewer of these properties and does not maintain the pigs’ interest as a source of manipulable material, and can also make conditions unpleasant in the pen, eg as a cold, damp lying area.

Suggested Actions:

Source good quality straw and store straw in a way that minimises the deteriorating effects of weather (use of covers and correct ventilation). If straw regularly becomes damp and/or fouled once in the pen, assess what factors are affecting this, eg ventilation patterns allowing weather to make straw wet; ventilation patterns encouraging pigs to dung in the lying area (cold air in the lying area), direction of gradient to the floor (are liquids flowing from the dunging area on to the lying area?)

Additional material:

Action for productivity 8. Feed and straw management to reduce the risk of mycotoxins: http://pork.ahdb.org.uk/media/39533/action-8-feedstraw-mangement-amend.pdf

EU Staff Working Document on best practices for the prevention of routine tail-docking and the provision of enrichment materials to pigs

https://ec.europa.eu/food/sites/food/files/animals/docs/aw_practice_farm_pigs_stfwrkdoc_en.pdf

Action for productivity 21. Ventilation http://pork.ahdb.org.uk/media/2048/Action-21-Ventilation.pdf

AHDB Pork Ventilation Guide http://pork.ahdb.org.uk/environment-buildings/pig-buildings-housing-development/ventilation/ventilating-pig-buildings-guide/

 

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Low staw coverage

What to look for:

Less than 5cm depth of straw across the majority of the lying area.

Whilst straw covers all the requirements for pig enrichment and keeps pigs usefully occupied, it has additional benefits in providing a thermally and physically comfortable lying area. Providing low straw coverage will reduce pigs’ comfort when lying, and will disrupt resting behaviour. Low amounts of straw will restrict its availability to pigs as enrichment and may induce competition for comfortable lying areas and for straw as enrichment.

Change subtitle “Suggestions” to “Suggested Actions” and replace text under that heading with:

Aim to provide at least 5cm depth of straw across the majority of the lying area. Where pigs maintain clean straw, it can be topped up regularly, rather than replaced. If pigs regularly foul and waste straw, assess ventilation and lying patterns to ensure pigs are using the lying area as the dry, warm area of the pen; remove fouled straw.

Ensure that weekend workers have clear instructions on straw provision.

Suggested Actions:

Aim to provide at least 5cm depth of straw across the majority of the lying area. Where pigs maintain clean straw, it can be topped up regularly, rather than replaced. If pigs regularly foul and waste straw, assess ventilation and lying patterns to ensure pigs are using the lying area as the dry, warm area of the pen; remove fouled straw.

Ensure that weekend workers have clear instructions on straw provision.

Additional material:

Action for Productivity 2: Strawing up

http://pork.ahdb.org.uk/media/2043/Action-2-Strawing-up.pdf

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Cold pen temperature

What to look for:

A priority is to ensure that pigs do not become too cold. There is a higher risk of tail biting occurring when pens are below the lower end of the recommended temperature range, than when temperatures are maintained at the upper end of the range4.

Defra recommend a temperature range for pork-weight pigs (~55kg) of 15 - 21°C,  and  for bacon weight pigs (~100kg) 13 - 18°C.

Shivering or huddling in pigs are signs of extreme cold which should clearly be avoided. However, pigs experience discomfort at milder temperatures than this without obvious outward signs.

Suggested Actions:

Pen temperatures should be measured using calibrated equipment, ideally with recording to show daytime and night time temperatures.

Generally, ensure that there is enough room in the lying area for all pigs to lie in clean, dry straw.

When cold weather is expected, extra actions that can be taken:

  • Add more straw to allow pigs to create warmer shelters within the lying area and provide further insulation from the flooring
  • Adjust ventilation systems to ensure that pigs are not becoming too cold
  • Consider replacing barred gates with solid gates to reduce air flow and allow air to warm within the building
  • Assess wind direction and which vents are most appropriate to use
  • Use gale breaker material to reduce the air-speed entering the building
  • If pens are at the end of an occupied row, add insulation to the pen wall using straw bales.
  • Consider providing a covered area over the lying area, or an inner kennel within the pen (eg with straw bales) to keep a warm resting area. It can be useful in preventing direct down draughts of cold air down walls. This must be robust enough to withstand the pigs’ activity.

Additional material:

Defra code of recommendation for pigs - https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/69369/pb7950-pig-code-030228.pdf

Action for productivity 21. Ventilation http://pork.ahdb.org.uk/media/2048/Action-21-Ventilation.pdf

AHDB Pork Ventilation Guide http://pork.ahdb.org.uk/environment-buildings/pig-buildings-housing-development/ventilation/ventilating-pig-buildings-guide/

pdf

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Draughts in the lying area

What to look for:

Look for visible signs of draughts such as patterns in the dust, movement of straw, pigs’ hair, etc, as well as checking detection of draughts while inside the pen, especially in the lying area. Look at lying pattern of pigs – are areas of the designated lying area avoided?

Cold air falling on to resting pigs will make them uncomfortable. Check that air from outside does not flow directly down walls and onto resting animals, particularly in cooler weather. The day and night resting patterns of the pigs’ should be observed (either directly, or by observation of dunging patterns when checking animals in the morning), as this can indicate the presence of draughts. Draughts will reduce the comfort of the lying area, and pigs may start to using avoid it. Intermittent draughts will disturb the resting behaviour of the pigs; causing discomfort and irritation as pigs end up lying on other pigs. Pigs becoming uncomfortable will in turn disturb resting animals.

Suggested Actions:

Whilst draughts at any time will be disruptive, extra care should be taken to reduce draughts where there is a big difference between outdoor (cold) and indoor (warmer) temperatures. Draughts in late winter / early spring will therefore be more important to address.

Additional draught reduction measures (permanent or temporary) could be:

  • Filling of gaps in outer walls
  • The addition of gale break or other material to reduce air speed and allow air to warm as it enters the pen
  • Installation of kennel lids or partial lids to deflect air flowing down pen walls
  • Full straw bales can be used to create internal walls
  • Correct air flow pattern around the pen is vital to ensure that warmed air moves slowly around the lying area, rather than direct influx of cold air
  • When weather patterns indicate higher chance of cold draughts, increase straw provision overnight to allow the pigs to create more sheltered areas for undisturbed rest
  • Ensure that weekend workers have clear instructions on straw provision and ventilation settings

Additional material:

Action for productivity 21. Ventilation http://pork.ahdb.org.uk/media/2048/Action-21-Ventilation.pdf

AHDB Pork Ventilation Guide http://pork.ahdb.org.uk/environment-buildings/pig-buildings-housing-development/ventilation/ventilating-pig-buildings-guide/

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Feed in pellets

What to look for:

Is feed provided in pellet form?

Meal and liquid feed has been found to be associated with lower tail occurrences of tail biting than pelleted feeds6,7. This is considered to be due to pelleted feed being associated with gastric ulcers.  The particle size within the pellets can be very small (less than 0.8mm) which has the potential to cause gut discomfort due to ulcers. Larger particle size is found in ground meal, which has a lower risk of gut ulcers.

Suggested Actions:

Provision of additional straw, as it is suggested that ingestion of straw can counteract the gut irritation6.

Additional material:

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Weight of pig

What to look for:

The risk of tail-biting lesions increases as pigs get older/heavier8. As pigs grow, they will impede movement of other pigs around the pen more than they did while smaller; there may also be a change from more juvenile playful behaviour and tolerance levels of other pigs to a less tolerant outlook which could include retaliation eg bites and fighting. There is also a suggestion that, as pigs become sexually mature, they may become more active and disruptive, which could affect behaviour.

While some tail damage will heal with time, in most instances tail lesions originate or get worse as a pig gets older (while still in mainstream pens). In finishers on straw, this confirms the general understanding that finisher-weight pigs are at higher risk of being tail bitten, rather than a flare-up of tail biting at a younger stage, which then recedes.

Suggested Actions:

Tackle tail-biting risks as early as possible to reduce presence of tail-biting as animals grow. If animals on the unit routinely begin tail biting at heavier weights, consider changes in management (eg increase straw, change in ventilation or diet) to reduce tail-biting risks at this point. Consider splitting pens or moving pigs to slaughter at smaller weights.

Additional material:

Defra code of recommendation for pigs - https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/69369/pb7950-pig-code-030228.pdf

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Humidity and temperature outside recommended range

What to look for:

A priority is to ensure that pigs do not become too cold and damp. When the straw gets wet, it loses thermal properties and is no longer as good at insulating the pig from cold. Dung or urine in the lying area will also make the straw damp and less useful as insulation.

There is a higher risk of tail biting occurring when pens are below the lower end of the recommended temperature range, than when temperatures are maintained at the upper end of the range4. Watch out for shivering or huddling in pigs, which are signs of extreme cold, which should clearly be avoided. However, pigs experience discomfort at milder temperatures than this without obvious outward signs.

Suggested Actions:

Aim to keep pigs in a warm, dry environment. Measure both humidity and temperature; when both of these are at uncomfortable levels (temperature below 15°C for 55kg pigs or below 13°C for 100kg pigs) the chance of tail biting is higher.

As a short-term measure, consider additional straw provision to help the pigs create more sheltered and warmer areas for lying within the pen. (NB If cold, damp conditions persist, straw will also become damp and less insulating, so longer-term measures are recommended). Remove wet or damp straw.

Additional measures to help protect pigs from direct effects of cold, wet weather can be:

  • Closing wall panels
  • Use of gale breaker screening
  • Use of full straw bales to create internal walls/shelters
  • Ensure that concrete slopes away from lying area so that rain does not dampen straw; consider pulling straw towards back of lying area to keep it dry
  • Ensure that weekend workers have clear instructions on straw provision and ventilation settings

Additional material:

Defra code of recommendation for pigs - https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/69369/pb7950-pig-code-030228.pdf

Action for productivity 21. Ventilation http://pork.ahdb.org.uk/media/2048/Action-21-Ventilation.pdf

AHDB Pork Ventilation Guide http://pork.ahdb.org.uk/environment-buildings/pig-buildings-housing-development/ventilation/ventilating-pig-buildings-guide/

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High number of hours of sunshine and High air pressure

What to look for:

Likely to be observed as seasonal increases in tail biting in late summer, especially following an extended spell of sunny days with high air pressure (warm, still weather).

In straw units this increases the risk of tail biting, likely to be due to the weather conditions contributing to warm, humid conditions in the pens (where buildings have limited ventilation options). 

Suggested Actions:

Whilst the weather cannot be controlled, its impact on the pigs can be managed. If tail biting on the unit is more likely to increase if the weather turns in hot and still, consider additional ventilation measures to improve airflow through the pens (eg replacing solid gates with barred gates, opening additional windows, removing galebreaker).

Additional measures to help cool the pigs would include sprinkler systems or misters (provided there is sufficient airflow to remove humid air). Shading windows and other air inlets would reduce the amount of warm air entering the building. Where roof vents are present, ensure that these are well cleaned for good airflow, and the correct height above the roof.

Additional material:

Action for productivity 21. Ventilation http://pork.ahdb.org.uk/media/2048/Action-21-Ventilation.pdf

AHDB Pork Ventilation Guide http://pork.ahdb.org.uk/environment-buildings/pig-buildings-housing-development/ventilation/ventilating-pig-buildings-guide/

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Fouled Drinkers

What to look for:

Presence of fouled straw or dung within bowl drinkers, or dung caked around nipple drinkers. Fouled drinkers could reduce pigs’ water uptake, and could increase competition for preferred drinkers. As well as this, presence of fouled drinkers may indicate problems in daily care and management of the animals.

Suggested Actions:

Ensure drinkers are cleaned regularly; reassess priorities/assignment of daily routines and ensure that all duties are being carried out.

Ensure that weekend workers have clear instructions on clearing drinkers and other management and husbandry routines.

Additional material:

Action for Productivity 16: Water supply http://www.bpex.org.uk/media/1991/action-16-water-supply.pdf

Practical Pig Video – daily checks regarding feed and water http://practicalpig.ahdb.org.uk/wean-to-finish/daily-checks-and-monitoring/daily-checks-feed--water

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Not using PCV2 vaccine

What to look for:

Check via producer / supplier or own records whether all pigs have been vaccinated using a PCV 2 vaccine.

Significantly lower levels of tail biting has found on units following introduction of PCV 2 vaccines8,9. The vaccination against porcine respiratory viruses and improving health in general, may be beneficial in improving pigs’ tolerance to other stressors in the environment.

Suggested Actions:

Ensure all pigs are PCV2 vaccinated.

While the use of PCV2 vaccines is clearly important, this does not rule out the importance of good health in pig production.

Additional material:

Action for productivity 19: Porcine Respiratory Disease Complex http://www.bpex.org.uk/media/2136/Action-19-PRDC.pdf

Action for Productivity 41: Porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus http://www.bpex.org.uk/media/2053/Action-41-PRRS.pdf

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Pens are long and narrow

What to look for:

Look for pens which are long and narrow rectangles, or where the lying area is long and narrow, as this pen layout can restrict the passage of pigs through the pen. Pigs wanting to get between lying area, water, feed and dunging areas in such pens are more likely to disturb other pigs. This is more of a problem where the passage of pigs across the pen or lying area is impeded, especially where the position of the drinkers, feeders and dunging area encourage pigs to walk through the lying area11. When pigs are standing at a feeder or drinkers, check if there enough room for other pigs to pass easily behind them.

Suggested Actions:

Pigs being constantly disturbed when resting or eating will result in unsettled pigs, which can increase the risk of tail biting occurring. Actions that can be taken are:

  • Consider knocking walls through to combine pens into a more square shape, or into wider rectangles in order to reduce pigs impeding other pigs around the pen.
  • Consider removing portions of pen walls to allow movement of pigs between two adjacent pens.
  • Remove objects which may be restricting movement patterns around the pen (e.g. unused feed troughs).
  • Consider using these pens for smaller pigs or for smaller groups of pigs.
  • Consider re-siting feeders or drinkers so that feeding or drinking pigs are not obstructing moving animals.

Additional material:

Gadd, J. 2003. Pig Production Problems - A Guide to their Solutions. Published by Nottingham University Press

http://www.thepigsite.com/articles/928/using-pig-behaviour-to-optimize-pen-design/

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Objects at floor level, fouled or indestructible

What to look for:

Provision of objects in strawed pens is often a reaction to existing tail biting, hence finding objects in pens with tail biting in.

Where objects are provided for enrichment, these should be suspended from the pen walls to help keep the objects clean and in use. Pigs maintain interest in clean objects which are destructible or deformable, rather than solid metal or objects that are too large to chew or bite. Indestructible objects on the floor that have become fouled will not encourage interaction with the pigs. Providing objects in this way can also be a sign of reaction to tail biting, rather than using enrichment objects as preventative measures.

Suggested Actions:

Where objects are provided, they need to be kept clean and dung free, ie suspended from pen fitting away from the dunging area, and deformable to the pigs (ie correct size for size of pig, and of a material that the pigs can get their teeth into).

Additional actions that can be taken are:

  • Increase the regularity of checks on objects on chains and ensure all pens have clean objects
  • Where objects frequently become detached, consider different methods of attachment
  • Chains, baler twine, strips of material and rope are all suitable for suspending objects from pen walls
  • Attach objects more directly to pen walls to reduce the ability of pigs to remove them e.g. bolting objects to pen walls (ensure they are still mobile enough to be interesting)
  • Ensure that absorbent materials such as rope and material are replaced between batches, ensure that non-absorbent materials such as metal chains are thoroughly disinfected between batches
  • Incorporate object checking and replacement into daily routine
  • Ensure that all objects are returned to pens when buildings have been cleaned and disinfected (include in cleaning checklist)

Additional material:

Environmental Enrichment for Confinement pigs -http://www.grandin.com/references/LCIhand.html

EU Staff Working Document on best practices for the prevention of routine tail-docking and the provision of enrichment materials to pigs

https://ec.europa.eu/food/sites/food/files/animals/docs/aw_practice_farm_pigs_stfwrkdoc_en.pdf

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Mix of tail lengths

What to look for:

Tail biting is more likely in pens where pigs have a mix of tail lengths – either a mix of docked and undocked tails, or a mix of docked tail lengths (eg some at 1/3 docked length, some at 2/3 docked length). Also look for batches/pens where there may be an occasional undocked pig among otherwise docked animals.

A mix of tail lengths is likely to stimulate the interest of pigs because of the novelty of the different lengths and movements of the tail. As well as this, mixed tail lengths can highlight a number of possible management issues:

  • Where management procedures at weekends, such as docking, are different to weekday routine and care
  • Runty piglets (often left undocked to minimise stress) may be more likely to become tail biters
  • Different docking opinions and techniques by stockpeople
  • Inconsistent use of docking equipment, or difficulties using docking equipment
  • Mixing of previously separate groups (e.g. from different source farms or buildings)
  • Mixing of pigs intended to be breeding gilts back into mainstream finishing

Suggested Actions:

Where tail docking is still acknowledged as necessary by your vet:

  • If there is a problem with a mix of tail lengths, ask your supplier to provide pigs with an agreed and standardised tail length
  • Improve training for stockpeople who carry out docking, so that tails can be docked to a certain agreed length. (If stockpeople are not confident using this equipment, provide suitable training)
  • Ensure there are enough staff at weekends to safely carry out all routine management requirements to agreed standards, and ensure that husbandry and management standards and routines are clearly understood by staff
  • House runts together following weaning, to try and meet their more specific management needs
  • Keep gilts housed in stable groups rather than mixing back into mainstream finishers
  • When docking standard is being set, ensure that tail length is based on the length of tail remaining, rather than the length of tail removed

Additional material:

Defra code of recommendation for pigs - https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/69369/pb7950-pig-code-030228.pdf

Work instruction 17: tail docking http://pork.ahdb.org.uk/media/2019/Work-Instruction-17-Tail-docking.pdf

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Pigs which have previously been housed on straw, now in non-straw housing

What to look for:

Be aware of the previous housing systems pigs have been reared in.  Pigs moved from straw housing to non-straw housing have a higher risk of developing tail biting and, therefore, need more careful management to help reduce the risks of tail biting12. If all rearing stages are not on this unit, check with the producer what housing system the pigs are from.

Pigs which have been previously housed on straw are likely to have developed a stronger behaviour pattern of rooting and chewing; and it therefore becomes even more important that they are provided with good quality and quantity of substrates and objects to chew and root on13. When housed without substrate there is a higher risk of other pigs becoming targets of chewing (eg ear and tail biting), so it becomes even more important to provide the pigs with good quality and quantity of enrichment.

Suggested Actions:

Where the previous housing type is known to be straw, ensure that additional measures are present to reduce the risk of tail biting, eg additional rooting outlets such as straw racks, rooting boxes with substrate, higher numbers of attached rootable and chewable objects (eg wellies, traffic cones, sugar beet).

Key properties to sustain pigs’ interest are that objects are clean, destructible, edible and nutritional – when pigs have been previously on straw (which has all these properties when well managed), it is even more important to try and provide all these properties in objects.

See Additional material for suggestions of enrichment objects to try – there is no prescriptive list of objects, but all objects must be safe for the pigs (even when worn or damaged).

Additional material:

Environmental Enrichment for Confinement pigs -http://www.grandin.com/references/LCIhand.html

EU Staff Working Document on best practices for the prevention of routine tail-docking and the provision of enrichment materials to pigs

https://ec.europa.eu/food/sites/food/files/animals/docs/aw_practice_farm_pigs_stfwrkdoc_en.pdf

More Information

Season - Late summer

What to look for:

Higher tail biting is likely in artificially ventilated buildings in late summer.

Not all units will have a seasonal pattern, but collecting and recording information on the number of tail-bitten pigs per month (or per week) can help to show whether this is a risk on a particular unit.

Be aware of weather and season contributing to tail biting – the increased risk of tail biting in late summer is linked to pens/buildings becoming too hot and humid, for example, where the ventilation settings are not circulating air adequately, or where change in wind direction affects ventilation patterns.

Suggested Actions:

Automated system checks:

  • Follow specialist ventilation advice for additional air circulation measures in the buildings, e.g. temporary vents, altering roof vents, opening doors/windows etc. – on fully controlled buildings, altering air flow can reduce effectiveness of automatic settings.
  • Check ventilation settings to ensure that all pens will receive sufficient air changes in order too reduce build up of humidity and temperature.
  • Pay special attention to ventilation systems when cleaning buildings prior to re-stocking to ensure all fans are working at the correct capacity for size of new pigs. for example
  • Check and calibrate thermostats regularly to ensure correct information is fed back to the controls.
  • If settings can be altered to manage daytime temperatures better, ensure that correct settings are resumed overnight so that pigs do not receive direct cold air over the lying area.
  • Check seals inside buildings (e.g. ceiling and wall joins) to reduce air leakage – gaps in the sealswill reduce the efficiency of powered systems (gaps can also create unwanted draughts and downflows which will also disturb the pigs).

Additional measures

  • Consider additional measures to assist ventilation, e.g. back-up fans.
  • Use compressed air to remove dust build up from vents and fans;
  • clear vegetation around air inlets and outlets of the building; clear away any other equipment which may be restricting air intake or outflow.
  • If possible, sit or crouch in the pens (at pig height) to see what the conditions are like for the pigs – corridors and spaces above pen height can give a deceptive idea of the temperature, atmosphere and humidity at pig height.
  • Consider thinning pigs earlier to reduce pig numbers in the building (which will contribute to high temperature and humidity) – having fewer pigs per pen will allow more pigs to lie on their sides to help cool themselves against the floor.
  • Additional measures such as misting or spraying can be useful to reduce temperature, but air movement is vital to reduce humidity build up.
  • Ensure correct drainage from under the pens to avoid build up of humidity from effluent in the slurry pit, and correct ventilation of the pit.
  • Shade air inlets to reduce intake of warm air;
  • Ensuring insulation is well maintained to reduce direct heat into the building;
  • Painting the outside of the structure white can reduce heat absorbed by building and keep internal temperature lower (proven in outdoor sow arcs).
  • If seasonal tail biting is a known problem on the unit ensure that successful changes are included in management documents and calendar to reduce the impact as much as possible.

Additional material:

Action for productivity 21. Ventilation http://pork.ahdb.org.uk/media/2048/Action-21-Ventilation.pdf

AHDB Pork Ventilation Guide http://pork.ahdb.org.uk/environment-buildings/pig-buildings-housing-development/ventilation/ventilating-pig-buildings-guide/

Action for productivity 3: Heat Stress (Indoor)

http://pork.ahdb.org.uk/media/2044/Action-3-Heat-stress-indoors.pdf

Environmental management for healthy pig production -  http://pork.ahdb.org.uk/media/39675/environmental-management-for-healthy-pig-production.pdf

Farm case Study – Seasonality in pigs (whilst these are outdoor sows, the ideas can still be applied to indoor systems) –

http://pork.ahdb.org.uk/media/2037/RIA-10-Seasonality-in-pigs.pdf

More Information

High Temperature

What to look for:

Avoid temperatures at the high end of or exceeding the Defra recommendations (a temperature range for pork-weight pigs (~55kg) of 15 - 21°C, and for bacon weight pigs (~100kg) 13 - 18°C). Measure and record at close to pig height inside pens).

Signs of high temperature include:

  • Pigs being unsettled (looking for a cool lying area away from the body heat of other pigs)
  • Pigs lying far apart
  • Pigs lying (by choice) in the dunging area or under the drinkers
  • Pigs being very dirty (from lying in the dunging area or dunging in the lying area)
  • Pigs dunging on the solid lying area (in order to lie on cooler slatted area).
  • Increased water consumption & wastage
  • Panting
  • Skin discolouration

In artificially ventilated systems, high temperatures are likely to combine with high humidity, making the environment uncomfortable for the pigs. High temperature and high humidity together are more hazardous than when they occur separately. In slatted systems, pigs have limited opportunities to cool down when the environment is hot, so require more careful building management such as ventilation.

Suggested Actions:

Regular recording of temperature (max and min) in the pens at pig-height, as well as tail-biting records can help to show if this is a likely risk on the unit. If seasonal tail biting is a known problem on the unit, ensure successful changes are included in management documents and calendar to reduce the impact as much as possible.

Painting the outside of the structure white can reduce heat absorbed by building and keep internal temperature lower (proven in outdoor sow arcs).

 

Additional material:

Defra code of recommendation for pigs - https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/69369/pb7950-pig-code-030228.pdf

Action for productivity 21. Ventilation http://pork.ahdb.org.uk/media/2048/Action-21-Ventilation.pdf

AHDB Pork Ventilation Guide http://pork.ahdb.org.uk/environment-buildings/pig-buildings-housing-development/ventilation/ventilating-pig-buildings-guide/

Action for productivity 3: Heat Stress (Indoor) –

http://pork.ahdb.org.uk/media/2044/Action-3-Heat-stress-indoors.pdf

Farm case Study - outdoor sows (ideas still relevant to indoor housing)

http://pork.ahdb.org.uk/media/2037/RIA-10-Seasonality-in-pigs.pdf

Environmental Management for Healthy Pig Production - http://pork.ahdb.org.uk/media/39675/environmental-management-for-healthy-pig-production.pdf

More Information

High humidity

What to look for:

Avoid high humidity, above 60%.

If no humidity meter is available, likely indicators of high humidity are similar to high temperature. Additional signs would be where paperwork etc in the building becomes damp. In cold outdoor temperatures, extremely high humidity will be visible as fog or mist when entering the building.

 

Suggested Actions:

Automated system checks:

  • Follow specialist ventilation advice for additional air circulation measures in the buildings, eg temporary vents, altering roof vents, opening doors/windows, etc. – on fully controlled buildings, altering airflow can reduce effectiveness of automatic settings
  • Check ventilation settings to ensure that all pens will receive sufficient air changes in order to reduce build-up of humidity and temperature
  • Pay special attention to ventilation systems when cleaning buildings prior to restocking to ensure all fans are working at the correct capacity for size of new pigs
  • Check and calibrate thermostats regularly to ensure correct information is fed back to the controls
  • If settings can be altered to manage daytime humidity better, ensure that correct settings are resumed overnight so that pigs do not receive direct cold air over the lying area
  • Check seals inside buildings (eg ceiling and wall joins) to reduce air leakage. Gaps in the seals will reduce the efficiency of powered systems, and can also create unwanted draughts and downflows which will also disturb the pigs)

Additional measures

  • Consider additional measures to assist ventilation, eg back-up fans
  • Use compressed air to remove dust build up from vents and fans
  • Clear vegetation around air inlets and outlets of the building and clear away any other equipment which may be restricting air intake or outflow
  • If possible, take a few minutes to sit or crouch in the pens (at pig height) to see what the conditions are like for the pigs. Corridors and spaces above pen height can give a deceptive idea of the temperature, atmosphere and humidity at pig height
  • Consider thinning pigs earlier to reduce pig numbers in the building (which will contribute to high temperature and humidity). Having fewer pigs per pen will allow more pigs to lie on their sides to help cool themselves against the floor
  • Additional measures such as misting or spraying can be useful to reduce temperature, but air movement is vital to reduce humidity build-up
  • Ensure correct drainage from under the pens to avoid build-up of humidity from effluent in the slurry pit, and correct ventilation of the pit
  • Shade air inlets to reduce intake of warm air
  • Ensure insulation is well maintained to reduce direct heat into the building
  • If misting or spraying systems are being used, ensure that air circulation and fresh air input are high enough to maintain comfortable levels of humidity
  • Check drainage of pit to ensure that liquid waste below the pens is not contributing to high humidity in the building. Emptying the pit will also increase the space available for circulating air in the building
  • Ensure that buildings are well ventilated after cleaning and disinfecting before pigs are put back in
  • Ensure that correct ventilation settings are resumed overnight so that pigs do not receive direct cold air over lying area, and are in a comfortable thermal environment

Additional material:

Defra code of recommendation for pigs - https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/69369/pb7950-pig-code-030228.pdf

Action for productivity 21. Ventilation http://pork.ahdb.org.uk/media/2048/Action-21-Ventilation.pdf

AHDB Pork Ventilation Guide http://pork.ahdb.org.uk/environment-buildings/pig-buildings-housing-development/ventilation/ventilating-pig-buildings-guide/

Action for productivity 3: Heat Stress (Indoor) –

http://pork.ahdb.org.uk/media/2044/Action-3-Heat-stress-indoors.pdf

Environmental Management for Healthy Pig Production - http://pork.ahdb.org.uk/media/39675/environmental-management-for-healthy-pig-production.pdf

More Information

Fouled or dirty objects in the pen

What to look for:

Objects broken off chains, or detached objects which are or have been in the dunging area (large percentage of the surface covered in muck).

Where objects are provided for enrichment, these should be suspended from the pen walls to help keep the objects clean and in use. Pigs maintain interest in clean objects which are destructible or deformable, rather than solid metal or objects that are too large to chew or bite. Indestructible objects on the floor that have become fouled will not encourage interaction with the pigs. Providing objects in this way can also be a sign of reaction to tail biting, rather than using enrichment objects as preventative measures.

Suggested Actions:

Where objects are provided, they need to be kept clean and dung free, ie suspended from pen fitting away from the dunging area, and deformable to the pigs (ie correct size for size of pig, and of a material that the pigs can get their teeth into).

Additional actions that can be taken are:

  • Increase the regularity of checks on objects on chains and ensure all pens have clean objects
  • Where objects frequently become detached, consider different methods of attachment
  • Chains, baler twine, strips of material and rope are all suitable for suspending objects from pen walls
  • Attach objects more directly to pen walls to reduce the ability of pigs to remove them e.g. bolting objects to pen walls (ensure they are still mobile enough to be interesting)
  • Ensure that absorbent materials such as rope and material are replaced between batches, ensure that non-absorbent materials such as metal chains are thoroughly disinfected between batches
  • Incorporate object checking and replacement into daily routine
  • Ensure that all objects are returned to pens when buildings have been cleaned and disinfected (include in cleaning checklist)

Additional material:

Environmental Enrichment for Confinement pigs -http://www.grandin.com/references/LCIhand.html

EU Staff Working Document on best practices for the prevention of routine tail-docking and the provision of enrichment materials to pigs

https://ec.europa.eu/food/sites/food/files/animals/docs/aw_practice_farm_pigs_stfwrkdoc_en.pdf

More Information

Pen Layout

What to look for:

Look at the pen usage by the pigs – are the dunging area, drinkers and feeders at or near one end of the pen, or are pigs having to cross the lying area to get between them? Are pigs in the lying area being disturbed by pigs trying to access the feeders?

Pigs habitually wake from resting, go to defecate, eat, drink then return to resting. If they have to walk through the resting area to do this, they are likely to disturb pigs that are trying to rest.

If the pigs are resting in the dunging area this suggests that the building or pen ventilation is not creating the best patterns of cool and warm air for the pigs.

Pen layouts where the lying area obstructs pigs moving between dunging area, feeders and drinkers, especially if pen shape is long and narrow, which can restrict pig movement further.

Suggested Actions:

  • Observe the pigs once settled in the pen in case they are not lying in the expected lying area and are ending up walking through resting animals
  • The original design of the building should establish ventilation patterns which assist the pigs in distinguishing lying areas and dunging areas in the pens.
  • Lying areas should be in the warmer area, dunging area in a cooler area (eg under incoming colder air)
  • Drinkers should be near the dunging area (for drainage)
  • Feeders shouldn’t be too close to the dunging area
  • Avoid pen layouts where the lying area is in the centre of the pen, as this encourages pigs to walk across the lying area every time they get up to defecate, eat and drink.
  • Where pens are small, or narrow, pen layout is even more important as there will be limited routes that the pigs can take when moving around the pen
  • Where pigs are resting in the dunging area, look at how the ventilation of the building or pen can be managed so that the pigs are able to lie in a comfortable temperature in the lying area (usually this should be the warmer part of the pen) – see suggestions under Dunging in the Lying Area

Additional material:

Using pig behaviour to optimise pen design

http://www.thepigsite.com/articles/928/using-pig-behaviour-to-optimize-pen-design/

Action for productivity 21. Ventilation http://pork.ahdb.org.uk/media/2048/Action-21-Ventilation.pdf

AHDB Pork Ventilation Guide http://pork.ahdb.org.uk/environment-buildings/pig-buildings-housing-development/ventilation/ventilating-pig-buildings-guide/

Gadd, J. (2003). Pig Production Problems: A Guide to their Solutions. Nottingham University Press.

More Information

Dunging in the lying area

What to look for:

Pigs appearing dirty, presence of dung or urine in the lying area.

This suggests that the ventilation pattern does not match the pigs’ preferred behaviour pattern or pen layout (eg position of feeders and drinkers). If the ventilation system is not able to maintain a comfortable temperature and humidity in the lying area, pigs may choose to lie in the cooler dunging area. This then makes it more likely that they will dung in the previous lying area.

This pattern may also induce unsettled or irritable behaviour in the pigs as their resting behaviour is constantly disturbed.

Alternately, dung in the lying area can suggest that the dunging area is too small, or that pigs are trying to dung away from the feeders. It can also suggest that the dunging area is being avoided by the pigs, e.g. strong ammonia, or rain and wind.

Suggested Actions:

  • Check the daily (and nightly) ventilation patterns in the pen
  • Cold air should be directed towards to the dunging area, with warmed air moving over the lying area
  • Drinkers should be present near the dunging area as pigs may drink and defecate in the same area – this also reduces fouling of the lying area
  • Whilst slatted flooring is designed to separate pigs from dung and urine, correct ventilation patterns should be used to help the pigs distinguish between pen areas, reducing soiling of pigs, pen humidity and disturbance to resting pigs
  • If flooring is solid, ensure floor drains away from the lying area, consider additional drainage channels
  • Move feeders away from dunging area
  • Check stocking density for pen size and adjust if necessary

Additional material:

Using pig behaviour to optimise pen design

http://www.thepigsite.com/articles/928/using-pig-behaviour-to-optimize-pen-design/

Action for productivity 21. Ventilation http://pork.ahdb.org.uk/media/2048/Action-21-Ventilation.pdf

AHDB Pork Ventilation Guide http://pork.ahdb.org.uk/environment-buildings/pig-buildings-housing-development/ventilation/ventilating-pig-buildings-guide/

Gadd, J. (2003). Pig Production Problems: A Guide to their Solutions. Nottingham University Press.

More Information

Pens are long and narrow

What to look for:

Look for pens which are long and narrow rectangles, or where the lying area is long and narrow, as this pen layout can restrict the passage of pigs through the pen. Pigs wanting to get between lying area, water, feed and dunging areas in such pens are more likely to disturb other pigs. This is more of a problem where the passage of pigs across the pen or lying area is impeded, especially where the position of the drinkers, feeders and dunging area encourage pigs to walk through the lying area11. When pigs are standing at a feeder or drinkers, check if there enough room for other pigs to pass easily behind them.

Suggested Actions:

Pigs being constantly disturbed when resting or eating will result in unsettled pigs, which can increase the risk of tail biting occurring. Actions that can be taken are:

  • Consider knocking walls through to combine pens into a more square shape, or into wider rectangles in order to reduce pigs impeding other pigs around the pen.
  • Consider removing portions of pen walls to allow movement of pigs between two adjacent pens.
  • Remove objects which may be restricting movement patterns around the pen (e.g. unused feed troughs).
  • Consider using these pens for smaller pigs or for smaller groups of pigs.
  • Consider re-siting feeders or drinkers so that feeding or drinking pigs are not obstructing moving animals.

Additional material:

Using pig behaviour to optimise pen design

http://www.thepigsite.com/articles/928/using-pig-behaviour-to-optimize-pen-design/

More Information

Not using PCV2 vaccine

What to look for:

Check via producer / supplier or own records whether all pigs have been vaccinated using a PCV 2 vaccine.

Significantly lower levels of tail biting has found on units following introduction of PCV 2 vaccines8,9. The vaccination against porcine respiratory viruses and improving health in general, may be beneficial in improving pigs’ tolerance to other stressors in the environment.

Suggested Actions:

Ensure all pigs are PCV2 vaccinated.

While the use of PCV2 vaccines is clearly important, this does not rule out the importance of good health in pig production.

Additional material:

Action for productivity 19: Porcine Respiratory Disease Complex http://pork.ahdb.org.uk/media/2136/Action-19-PRDC.pdf

Action for Productivity 41: Porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus http://pork.ahdb.org.uk/media/2053/Action-41-PRRS.pdf

More Information

Mix of tail lengths

What to look for:

Tail biting is more likely in pens where pigs have a mix of tail lengths – either a mix of docked and undocked tails, or a mix of docked tail lengths (eg some at 1/3 docked length, some at 2/3 docked length). Also look for batches/pens where there may be an occasional undocked pig among otherwise docked animals.

A mix of tail lengths is likely to stimulate the interest of pigs because of the novelty of the different lengths and movements of the tail. As well as this, mixed tail lengths can highlight a number of possible management issues:

  • Where management procedures at weekends, such as docking, are different to weekday routine and care
  • Runty piglets (often left undocked to minimise stress) may be more likely to become tail biters
  • Different docking opinions and techniques by stockpeople
  • Inconsistent use of docking equipment, or difficulties using docking equipment
  • Mixing of previously separate groups (e.g. from different source farms or buildings)
  • Mixing of pigs intended to be breeding gilts back into mainstream finishing

Suggested Actions:

Where tail docking is still acknowledged as necessary by your vet:

  • If there is a problem with a mix of tail lengths, ask your supplier to provide pigs with an agreed and standardised tail length
  • Improve training for stockpeople who carry out docking, so that tails can be docked to a certain agreed length. (If stockpeople are not confident using this equipment, provide suitable training)
  • Ensure there are enough staff at weekends to safely carry out all routine management requirements to agreed standards, and ensure that husbandry and management standards and routines are clearly understood by staff
  • House runts together following weaning, to try and meet their more specific management needs
  • Keep gilts housed in stable groups rather than mixing back into mainstream finishers
  • When docking standard is being set, ensure that tail length is based on the length of tail remaining, rather than the length of tail removed

Additional material:

Defra code of recommendation for pigs - https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/69369/pb7950-pig-code-030228.pdf

Work instruction 17: tail docking http://pork.ahdb.org.uk/media/2019/Work-Instruction-17-Tail-docking.pdf

More Information

Genetics

What to look for:

Check records of tail-biting occurrences. Do they tie up with the introduction of new stock sources or bloodlines?

New breed combinations or genetic lines may not be as well adapted for the outdoor systems as previous supplies and may struggle to cope. Pigs may be less well adapted for weather extremes, or may be less well adapted to standard outdoor diet.

Suggested Actions:

Additional care may be needed if a genetic combination is known to be higher tail biting risk e.g. improve dry lying area, change to diet they are known to thrive on.

Additional material:

N/A

More Information

Ventilation and thermal comfort

What to look for:

Enter the shelters/arks regularly to check what the environment is like. Check:

  • If the shelter ark is very humid
  • Has high ammonia
  • Is very cold or hot
  • Are pigs huddling together?
  • Is straw in lying area very dark and damp?
  • Are pigs lying on their sides, far apart, or not lying inside the building?

Whilst outdoor pigs have a greater choice of environments, they still need a warm, dry lying area and protection from cold, wet conditions and draughts as well as a protected shelter from high temperatures and sunburn. Pigs in naturally ventilated systems (eg large, open barns) are at higher risk of tail biting in cold damp conditions.

Suggested Actions:

Cold shelter: Consider options for reducing draughts and direct flow of cold air onto the pigs, eg internal walls (straw bales), galebreaker or similar fabric awnings (slows movement of air into the shelter, allowing it to warm, reduces rain landing or blowing directly on pigs). Increase dry straw provision. Consider insulation in shelter walls. Consider shielding the doorway (eg a wall of straw bales screening the doorway) to prevent wind blowing straight into the lying area.

Damp straw: If straw being damp is likely to be due to rain entry, shield vents to reduce water entry, or use galebreaker baffles to reduce rain landing or blowing directly onto the straw. If dampness is from contact with wet ground, consider improvements to pen base, or raising the lying area. Use of an apron outside the shelter eg straw, shavings or hard standing can help reduce mud being trodden into the lying area. Ensure the shelter/ark has good drainage.

High temperatures: Increase airflow through the shelter, eg ridge vents, opening side vents. White-painted buildings reflect more heat to keep the inside cooler. Provide additional external shade if the main shelter is likely to become too hot – eg awnings/tent. Insulation of shelters can help prevent inside becoming too hot.

High ammonia: Measures to reduce damp straw and high temperatures are both applicable – the aim is to improve ventilation and reduce humidity. However, it is also necessary to look at why pigs are choosing to dung in the shelter rather than outside, or whether urine and dung are seeping in from outside.

If ventilation is a recurring issue, look at reorientating the shelters to avoid prevailing wind and rain entry in winter.

Additional material:

N/A

More Information

Extreme Weather

What to look for:

Extreme weather poses the main challenges to outdoor pig welfare – rain, wind, hot and low temperatures, mud, ice, etc.

Suggested Actions:

Having contingency plans can help reduce the impact of extreme weather on the pigs.

Things to consider:

  • In the cold – water supply, feed supply, thermal comfort. Staff access to farm and fields (eg in snow).
  • In the heat – additional water (eg free standing barrels with drinkers attached), sprinklers (eg hosepipe with small holes), wallow opportunities, sunburn, additional shade (tall hedges or awnings), insulate buildings.

Additional material:

N/A

More Information

Limited feed and water access

What to look for:

Look for pigs squabbling at feeders or drinkers, or disquiet.

Feed and water are still important resources for outdoor pigs. Competition at feeders and drinkers will not only result in less even growth, but also increases the risk of tail biting being used as a way to access these resources.

Suggested Actions:

Ensure enough spaces are available at feeder and drink points (recommended minimum of 10 pigs to one feed point or drinker point). Ensure that all feed and drink points are fully operational, e.g. not obstructed with objects or old food, and that flow rate into all is equal. If flow rate cannot be made equal, add extra points so that enough pigs can feed or drink without competing. If area around feed or drink points regularly becomes puddled, move the points to a higher point in the paddock, or raise the feeders on plinths or ramps. Ensure that pigs are not “channelled” to the feeders or drinkers to reduce congestion, and to reduce impact on land. Ensure that feeders and drinkers are at appropriate height for all animals; provide steps (such as breeze blocks – preferably round-cornered) if smaller individuals or stockier breeds are present.

If feeders are provided inside the shelters, ensure that regular checks are still made. Ideally feeders should not be against a far wall of the shelter as pigs will then have to walk through resting animals in order to reach the food. Feeders placed against the side of the shelter, near (but not obstructing) the entrance. If double-sided feeders are placed in the shelter, ensure that both sides can be fully used i.e. big enough space between the feeder and wall for pigs to eat head on, plus space for pigs to walk behind them.

Ensure that feed supply is consistent – stops and starts in feed availability will cause competition for feed places. If there has been a feed outage, consider providing additional feed points (e.g. trough, or scattering on dry ground) to reduce initial competition.

Additional material:

N/A

More Information

Inadequate Enrichment

What to look for:

Look out for a low proportion of pigs rooting around in soil or straw compared with proportion rooting or chewing on fittings in the paddock (posts, pipes, etc.) or interacting agonistically with other pigs (eg chewing on ears or tails, fighting – interacting in a way that gets a negative reaction from the other pig such as walking away, squealing or retaliating).

Outdoor systems are generally considered to provide the most natural rooting and chewing opportunities for pigs, eg turf, soil, insects, stones, as well as a greater range of temperatures, choice of environments, light levels, etc. However, especially in paddocks where pigs have been regularly housed, the “interest” in soil may be reduced, eg if soil is dry or dusty, or has high percentage of faeces.

There is still no definitive interpretation of the use of pebbles by outdoor pigs and whether or not stone chewing is a sign of good or poor conditions. Tooth and stomach damage have been attributed to stone chewing (even if pigs are choosing to use the stones as enrichment) – provision of less harmful enrichment materials that fulfil more of the pigs’ needs is likely to be more beneficial.

Suggested Actions:

Suggested actions that can be taken are:

  • Replenish (or replace) straw in the lying area, and in fair weather add bales to the paddock. Adding enrichment to less-used areas of the paddock can help distribute the pigs around the paddocks, and also provide temporary shade or shelter
  • Add large logs or branches (non-poisonous species). These can also add shade and variety
  • Suspend large objects (eg wellingtons, traffic cones, branches, plastic barrels) from secure paddock fittings (eg shelters)
  • Add large turfs (from known sources, ie pig-free (or on-site), not from areas likely to be accessed by dogs or cats
  • Add new soil to the paddock eg sterilised spent mushroom compost
  • Add novel substrate eg wood shavings

If the majority of rooting pigs show more interest in the objects or novel substrates after a period of several weeks, this suggests that the soil composition is no longer keeping them interested enough.

Additional material:

N/A

More Information

Stray Voltage

What to look for:

Observe pigs around the paddocks. Are they cautious to approach fittings they should be familiar with, eg feeders and drinkers? Are pigs startled by contact with shelter sides or other fittings?

Stray voltage around the paddock can result in the pigs receiving shocks or unpleasant sensations from various pen fittings, eg drinkers, feeders, shelter sides.

Suggested Actions:

Confirm presence of stray voltage and identify likely causes using a voltmeter (stray voltage of over 2.0V is considered to be severe). Check with an electrician; stray voltage below 1.0V is considered to be acceptable (in cattle). Ensure all sources of voltage are appropriately earthed.

Additional material:

N/A

More Information

Health

What to look for:

Look out for:

  • Any listless or restless behaviour
  • Listen for coughing
  • Any pigs that are hairier than usual
  • Pale pigs, or any other signs of ill health

If you are sure that all other likely risks have been ruled out, health remains the likely underlying stressor.

Increased rooting and chewing behaviour can be found when pigs are in discomfort, eg due to internal problems such as digestive issues, or gut ulcers. The nature of outdoor farming puts pigs at higher risk of parasites such as roundworm and lungworm.

Suggested Actions:

Suggested actions to take are:

  • Record occurrences of tail biting
  • Consult your vet if health (clinical or subclinical level) is thought to be the most likely factor

Review vaccination protocols

Additional material:

N/A

More Information