Pigs With a Tail To Tell

Author: Ruth Clements, FAI Farms
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At FAI we focus on understanding the animals being raised in the food chain in order to design systems that harness and optimizes their abilities. When it comes to rearing pigs this means developing techniques and systems that negate the need for routine removal of their tails (tail-docking). Our approach to the problem begins with understanding and working with the pigs fundamental biology.

Pigs With a Tail to Tell

In many parts of the world industry standard practice involves routine tail docking of pigs. While this practice is prohibited under EU legislation, most pigs in standard European commercial systems still have their tails docked. This is done to prevent pigs from biting each other’s tails, which cause pain and can lead to extreme damage, infection, and in the worse cases, death. We began our work by seeking to understand and prevent the underlying causes that lead to tail biting in the first case.

One of the reasons we discovered is that pigs in their natural environment will spend up to 60% of their waking time rooting and foraging. When this behaviour is denied, through providing them with a barren environment or lack of materials they can manipulate, such as straw or woodchip, pigs can develop harmful and aggressive behaviours including tail biting.

Hence, an intact tail tells you that a pig has had a good environment throughout its life.

At FAI we have been breeding and finishing pigs with tails for over a decade. Our system keeps pigs in stable family groups and provides them with a constant supply of materials they can manipulate and enough space to exhibit natural behaviours. We have demonstrated that within a scalable, commercial system, routine tail docking is unnecessary and avoidance of tail biting is consistently achievable.

In developing this system and refining it for uptake across the food chain, we partnered with the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals (RSPCA) and UK agricultural colleges to establish guidelines for farmers outlining a set of Mandatory, Advisable and Desirable (MAD) requirements to help them avoid tail biting.

Mandatory requirements for the avoidance of tail biting

  • Constant supply of manipulable material
  • Sex segregation
  • Constant provision and no competition for water (water clean at all times)
  • Constant provision and no competition for food (7 pigs or less per feeding space)
  • Stocking density Good ventilation and air quality
  • Maintenance of peer groups
  • Good light quality
  • The ability to thermo regulate (particularly for pigs over 30kg)
  • Good herd health status
  • Provision of roughage for gut health
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