Agricultural technical engineer and veterinarian
The Administration is charting the future of livestock farming, which is marked by two work lines: Animal Welfare and respect for the environment.
At the end of 2017, European delegates came to inspect pig farms and reported that 100% of the farms obtained a negative report towards their production system.
Although the porcine sector defended the situation perfectly, the truth is that, for example, Spanish farms are asked to take more welfare measures to avoid docking as a routine management, but as a last option after solving the rest of the causes that lead to tail biting.
It is true that in other European countries tail docking is also carried out. But that argument is not valid since Animal Welfare is considered a priority above all and not competitive production.
Previous studies revealed certain doubts about whether the pain caused to the piglets by tail docking is only acute, as in the other mutilations carried out in accordance with Animal Regulations (teeth clipping or castration). In the case of tail docking, it is believed that the pain is chronic, due to similarity with amputees who develop a neuroma that makes them “feel pain” sometimes in the amputated limb.
This has been proven by both histology and thermography, but it must be recognized that it still generates doubts and skepticism.
This fact should make us think, because if we cut the tails of 100% of the piglets when we only have 3% of caudophagy, we are causing mild pain to 100 animals and severe pain to 3. However, if we do not cut the tails of any of them and the cases of caudophagy are double or even triple, reaching for example 10%, there will only be more severe pain in 10 animals, but the remaining 90 will not experience any pain, which is an interesting reflection.
The Administration has set out to determine the status of each farm with respect to caudophagy, so that the main causes involved can be identified, as it is very rare among wild boar and pigs reared on an extensive basis.
To this end, surveys are being carried out to collect data:
The conditions of the farms
The frequency of occurrence of bite cases
The severity of the injuries
The preliminary results of these surveys showed that there was no early detection of cases and when action is taken, the outbreak is already spread.
In general, the surveys reflect a low percentage of cases of caudophagy so it is not justifiable to carry out docking practice on a routine basis.
On the other hand, informative talks have been promoted to explain the situation to the pig sector members, from farmers to veterinarians, since it will be difficult to change a practice so rooted and considered useful and necessary by many of them.
Current knowledge indicates that caudophagy is a multifactorial pathology that manifests itself as a consequence of a problem in the handling of pigs. These animals respond to certain triggers and it is known that correcting or avoiding them can reduce the likelihood of this undesirable behavior.
Potential triggers of caudophagy
Sick animals are often deficient and more susceptible to this problem. Therefore, ensuring good health status reduces the possibility of caudophagy.
In this sense, early action is crucial, and cases of onset of caudophagy should be diagnosed as soon as possible to avoid further occurrences, i.e., it is necessary to identify when the problem starts.
2. ENVIRONMENTAL CONDITIONS
There are environmental parameters that are directly related to caudophagy, so whatever causes discomfort to the animals will be a risk factor.
Thus, poor ventilation, humidity or lighting conditions predispose to more cases of caudophagy, whereas with good air quality this problem is less likely to occur.
According to European regulations, 100 kg pigs need 0.65 m2. However, we must remember that, although in central European countries the temperature does not usually exceed 25°C, in southern countries it is common to reach 40°C in summer and in that case 1 m2 would be needed, therefore, if it is possible, then the density should be reduced.
The mixing of animals and the consequent hierarchical struggles in the pens stress the animals, and it is seen that in slatted pens and pens with larger animals more cases occur.
If the diet is not balanced, either because of a lack of some nutrients or because of the presence of some toxin, the need to look for nutrients in their environment is encouraged, which can lead to aggression. It seems that this phenomenon occurs more in the case of dry food (pellets) than with wet food.
On the other hand, there are studies that indicate that diets rich in tryptophan, which increase serotonin levels, make the animals calmer.
The same applies to access to water as to feed, since insufficient or poor quality water makes the animals more nervous and therefore more susceptible. For this reason, supplementation with salts when clinical signs of caudophagY occur is not always the solution for controlling it.
5. AGE, SEX AND GENETICS
According to studies carried out by IRTA (Spain), sex is a predisposing factor to caudophagy, with females being seen to bite more than castrated males and males being bitten more frequently.
Age also influences the appearance of the problem, with a lower incidence observed in young animals.
On the other hand, it has been seen that genetics could also play a role, with a greater risk in the Landrace, given that by improving production parameters its hardiness has been neglected and it is more sensitive to pathologies. So, if there is an outbreak of caudophagy it will have more serious consequences.
Environmental enrichment is essential for pigs to develop their exploratory behavior. Therefore, it is recommended to provide them with objects to avoid redirection of aggressive exploratory behavior towards their pen mates.
The ideal object has not yet been established, so studies are underway to determine which is most appropriate and which meets the following conditions:
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