Anyone that has every walked through a pen of pigs knows that they
are inquisitive, using their mouth to investigate their surroundings,
coupled with a natural tendency to chew. This can lead to problems
if animals exhibit signs of tail biting. It can seem to start without
cause, involving one or two animals or whole pens of pigs. Solving
the tail biting problem may be as simple as removing the pig whose
tail is being bitten or very complex with no obvious causes or solutions.
The occurrence of tail biting may be almost non-existent or a never
ending problem. Tail biting can be a very costly event in any pig
operation with no one guaranteed remedy to preventing or stopping
- pigs have a natural tendency to mouth and chew objects as a
way of exploring their environment.
- research has shown that pigs are attracted to both the sign
and taste of blood. If blood is drawn by accidental biting of
a pen mates tail, it can become infectious to the animal that
started the biting and if left unchecked other pigs can join in.
- tail biting is costly to the pig industry through the loss of
pig productivity, primary/secondary infection, death loss and
- research studies show a relationship between tail biting and
disease lesions and condemnations in slaughter plants.
- aberrant aggressive behaviour in pigs has been defined as a
"vice" in pigs by the BPEX in the UK. Tail biting is
the largest problem of those defined vices.
- when tail biting occurs producers need to look at all possible
causes and possible trigger factors.
- many factors can be at play including the environment, diet
and husbandry methods that pigs are responding to in a negative
- one rogue pig biting other(s) or larger problems in pens of
pigs, no one pig or cause identified.
- professional veterinary advice is essential to help in solving
Tail Biting Triggers
- Production system type
- Tail docking protocol
- tail biting as a vice activity caused by factors such as frustrated
foraging activity or the normal investigation by mouth resulting
in accidental bleeding of the pen mates tail.
- attraction to blood can result in more tail biting activity.
- some genetic lines may have more tendency to show this type
- research has shown gender differences, with barrows having their
tails bitten 2.5 times more than gilts. Some speculation is that
gilts turn around to face new pigs or situations while barrows
turn away from new pigs or unsure situations thus exposing their
- British research on the percentage of pigs affected by tailbiting
in different production systems looked at straw and slats; indoor
and outdoor; breeder finisher, nursery finisher and finisher.
- pigs on straw were the lowest when compared to pigs raised on
slats (0.4% VS 2.1%).
- indoor had a 50% higher rate of occurrence than with outdoor
(1.7% VS 1.2%)
- finisher operations had the highest incidents of tailbiting
at 1.6% with breeder finishers at 1.1% and the nursery at 0.9%.
- straw can help reduce the incidence of tail biting by giving
pigs something to chew on but will not work with most partial
or total slat operations.
- proper tail docking is the best method to reduce the incidence
of tail biting. More tail biting problems may result when tails
are left long or not docked properly. The last part of the tail
is less sensitive to touch and the pig may not sense when a pen
mate is chewing on the tail and seek to move out of harms way.
- docked tails should be uniform in length, it was reported that
herds with variable tail lengths had more problems with tail biting.
- tails should have about 2/3 docked leaving 1/3 of the tail when
the baby pig is processed.
- any factor that increases the stress level in a pig or group
of pigs can lead to tail biting issues.
- increased stocking density and overcrowding increases the competition
for food, water and pen space. Limited feeder/waterer space may
cause forceful biting on the rear of pigs at the feeder/waterer
as others try to gain access.
- lack of pen space to lie down or get out of harms ways or having
to walk over other pigs to feed or drink along with poor pen design
or feeder placement can cause problems.
- Canadian research has shown that group size is a factor with
medium size pens of pigs (between 20 - 40 pigs) having the highest
incidents while the smaller or larger pens sizes had lower levels
of tail biting. This is due to the hierarchy in medium size pens
being the hardest for the pigs to sort out. In the end it is best
to have the recommended square footage for the size of pig.
- excessive heat or cold can be a trigger. Proper winter ventilation/supplemental
heat or pig misters in summer time heat can be beneficial.
- Poor ventilation and drafts may result in pigs piling , having
high humidity, dust, poor air quality or noxious gases which can
lead to tail biting issues.
- today's swine diets are well balanced but nutrition can be
an issue. Your feed supplier can help with any concerns you have.
- poor feed quality or out of feed events with the latter being
known to cause tail biting.
- any health challenge going through the herd such as presence
or outbreak of PRRS. This can cause the stress levels and aggressiveness
to increase in pigs.
- greasy pig or exudative epidermitis. The skin lesion on the
tail can lead to other pigs showing interest in the tail area
and biting or chew on it.
- diseases involving diarrhea. Pigs tend be moving around more,
the tail is more active, resulting in other pigs attention be
drawn to the tail.
- light can be a factor, not to dim or too bright. Sixty lux is
the recommended level. If light level is too bright and you do
have tail biting issues, the pigs will be attracted to the colour
- Barns should have a minimum of 6 hours of darkness a day. It
will help reduce the aberrant aggressive behaviour in pigs.
Treating Tail Biting
- spray-mark any suspected pigs who are biters and remove if they
are the biters
- remove or treat any bitten pigs ASAP
- try to prevent other pigs from being bitten
- try anti-biting sprays if practical
- use Stockholm Tar or similar products on tail bitten area
- consult vet about products to reduce infection on tail bitten
- review all issues that could be causing stress or aberrant aggressive
behaviour in pigs
Tail biting can be attributed to many factors. Overall you should
ensure you are meeting the pig's biological needs and minimizing
stress. Try to identify, reduce and react quickly to any issues
that can be triggers for tail biting before they occur. Placing
"pig toys" in pens may be a help but they must be introduced
before tail biting becomes an issue.
Note: The PorkBridge program is sponsored by the
University of Minnesota, South Dakota State University, Iowa State
University, University of Nebraska, and Ohio State University. The
educational series, entitled "PorkBridge", allows pork
production owners, managers and employees to increase knowledge
and skills in grow-finish production without having to leave the
comfort of their home or the farm.
I have subscribed to the Porkbridge program for grow-finish operators
for the last two years. It is an excellent program that addresses
current issue in pork production. For more information on the up
coming 2012-2013 session go to the Porkbridge website.