A bitter solution to tail-biting

Sam Walton reports on a new spray that’s been developed to help control tail-biting

Have you ever wondered what happens to prescription tablets that are taken back to the doctor or pharmacy? Well, they’re destroyed using what’s known as controlled destruction kits. Yorkshire Hygiene Services (YHS), based at Northallerton, is a manufacturer of these kits and uses a product called Bitrex in the process. This is so foul tasting that not even the most desperate addict would touch pharmaceuticals treated with it.

Bitrex has already been used in a product to stop horses biting railings, stable doors, cribs and other wooden areas – apparently after just one bite, the horses back away and never go near again – and now it’s also available in Tail Guard, a new product that’s being made by YHS and marketed by A-One Feed Supplements.

Tail Guard was developed after pig producer Geoffrey Simmons asked his son Ruben if YHS had a product that would put pigs off tail-biting. Ruben works with YHS owners David and Andrew Best, and the company set to work on the challenge of finding a foolproof way of easily applying a long-lasting product containing Bitrex to a pig’s tail.

Geoffrey Simmons has kept pigs for more than 50 years, and like many fellow producers, after the last foot-and-mouth outbreak he disbanded his breeding herd and converted the buildings to do bed and breakfast. Tail biting had always been a bit of a problem, no matter what type of buildings the pigs were kept in. Toys have helped, as did Stockholm tar to some degree, but that doesn’t last long and soon disappears from the tail.

Mr Simmons let YHS trial the new product for about six months as the company tried various strengths to see what worked best, and at the same time it developed a method of application that it has patented.

Now on the market as Tail Guard, the product containing Bitrex is dispensed from a 500ml plastic bottle with a hand-pumped aerosol action. Once applied, the product stays on the tail for several weeks, and in a clever bit of reverse psychology Tail Guard is coloured red so it looks like blood. This attracts the pigs initially, but once they’ve had a taste, they never go near again.

Mr Simmons reports he’s had no biting whatsoever while using the product. He has even used it to successfuly protect a pig with an anal prolapse, while another with damage to a foot that was bleeding also attracted no biting from other pigs.

A-One, which is marketing Tail Guard, is confident that the treatment will work as a deterrent as well as a cure, and would like to see a bottle on every unit. It can be applied from a distance of one metre, and the only warning is not to get it into the eyes.

Officially launched at this year’s EuroTier exhibition, it created great interest, as would anything that can help stop tail biting because it’s a very disturbing condition to have in any piggery. It’s not cheap at £42 for a single bottle (the price comes down to £30/bottle for a box of eight), but with a claimed 300 treatments in a bottle, the few pence it costs per pig will quickly repay itself by avoiding a condemned carcase or a greatly reduced price for a tail-bitten pig.

For more information telephone 01423 322706, or visit: www.a-one.co.uk

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