Pig producers urged to assess tail biting risk factors

Pig producers are being urged not to rush into trialling batches of undocked pigs in response to pressure from Brussels to address the issue of tail docking.

The European Commission has increased the focus on tail docking over the past year or so and member states, including the UK, are being asked to demonstrate how they are tackling the problem.

But, according to NPA senior policy advisor Georgina Crayford, it is not expecting farmers to stop docking immediately.

“I’ve been hearing some worrying reports of farmers embarking on trials of undocked pigs, possibly as a result of concerns that they could be prosecuted for routine tail docking. This could have detrimental consequences if it results in bouts of tail-biting,” she said.

“What the Commission wants to see is efforts to address husbandry and environmental risk factors for tail biting in order to make rearing pigs with intact tails more feasible.

“Therefore, rather than going straight to trialling batches without docking, NPA recommends that farmers focus on documenting what they have done to try to reduce tail biting behavior.

“This could include checking ventilation, trialling different types of enrichment, spending more time watching pig behaviour, reducing stocking rates, changing genetics, ensuring better consistency in docked tail lengths and cleaning drinkers.

“Farmers should also make sure they keep good records of incidences of tail biting, including the number of treatments administered for bitten pigs – eMB data can be used for this.”

The NPA is recommending that farmers do a risk assessment on their farm to determine which risk factors for biting are present. A print-out of a risk report should serve as good evidence to any inspectors. The AHDB webHAT tool is useful and free, she said.

“What we don’t want to see is people stopping docking without first addressing the risk factors for biting,” Georgina added. “If farmers want to trial pigs with full tails, we urge them to do it with their vet’s supervision and only after careful planning of how those pigs will be managed and a plan for dealing with an outbreak should it occur.

“DO NOT mix undocked pigs with docked pigs as uneven tail lengths is a risk factor for biting. Farmers could look to not dock their replacement gilts first as a trial.”

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Editor of LBM titles Pig World and Farm Business and group editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer. National Pig Association's webmaster. Previously political editor at Farmers Guardian for many years and also worked Farmers Weekly. Occasional farming media pundit. Brought up on a Leicestershire farm, now work from a shed in the garden in Oxfordshire. Big fan of Leicester City and Leicester Tigers. Occasional cricketer.