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More tail lesions among undocked than tail docked pigs in a conventional herd

  • H. P. Lahrmann (a1), M. E. Busch (a1), R. B. D’Eath (a2), B. Forkman (a3) and C. F. Hansen (a3)...

The vast majority of piglets reared in the European Union (EU) and worldwide is tail docked to reduce the risk of being tail bitten, even though EU animal welfare legislation bans routine tail docking. Many conventional herds experience low levels of tail biting among tail docked pigs, however it is not known, what the prevalence would have been had the pigs not been tail docked. The aim of this study was to compare the prevalence of tail lesions between docked and undocked pigs in a conventional piggery in Denmark with very low prevalence of tail biting among tail docked pigs. The study included 1922 DanAvl Duroc×(Landrace×Large White) female and castrated male pigs (962 docked and 960 undocked). Docked and undocked pigs were housed under the same conditions in the same room but in separate pens with 20 (±0.03) pigs/pen. Pigs had ad libitum access to commercial diets in a feed dispenser. Manipulable material in the form of chopped straw was provided daily on the floor (~10 g/pig per day), and each pen had two vertically placed soft wood boards. From weaning to slaughter, tail wounds (injury severity and freshness) were scored every 2nd week. No clinical signs of injured tails were observed within the tail docked group, whereas 23.0% of the undocked pigs got a tail lesion. On average, 4.0% of the pigs with undocked tails had a tail lesion on tail inspection days. More pens with tail lesions were observed among pigs weighing 30 to 60 kg (34.3%; P<0.05) than in pens with pigs weighing 7 to 30 kg (13.0%) and 60 to 90 kg (12.8%). Removal of pigs to a hospital pen was more likely in undocked pens (P<0.05, 47.7% undocked pens and 22.9% docked pens). Finally, abattoir meat inspection data revealed more tail biting remarks in undocked pigs (P<0.001). In conclusion, this study suggests that housing pigs with intact tails in conventional herds with very low prevalence of tail biting among tail docked pigs, will increase the prevalence of pigs with tail lesions considerably, and pig producers will need more hospital pens. Abattoir data indicate that tail biting remarks from meat inspection data severely underestimate on-farm prevalence of tail lesions.

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