Risk factors associated with tail damage in conventional non-docked pigs throughout the lactation and rearing period

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Tail biting is an abnormal behaviour in pigs, and remains an economic and welfare problem in modern pig production. Reasons for performing tail-biting behaviour are of multifactorial origin, and are often related to the current environment or internal characteristics of pigs. The objective of the present study was to identify early life risk factors connected to tail damage in non-docked pigs in a commercial Danish piggery, and to further compare the effects of cumulative cross-life experience throughout the early rearing. In an observational study, 741 piglets from 51 sows born in six batches were individually marked at birth and followed until nine weeks of age. Litter related variables and individual piglet characteristics were collected during lactation. The pigs’ performance parameters were recorded from birth to nine weeks of age. The association between putative risk factors and tail damage assessed at different stages during lactation and rearing was analysed using multinomial mixed regression models. Prior to weaning, the odds of having tail damage were higher for piglets originating from litters with a high birth weight variation (P = 0.012) and for piglets that were heavier at weaning (P < 0.001). Piglets born to an aggressive sow had 2.7-fold increased odds of having tail damage (P = 0.003), while piglets of sows treated after farrowing had a lower odds (P = 0.015). Post-weaning, the most significant risk factor(s) associated with tail damage was the previous tail status of the pigs. Pigs with bite marks/ scratches in previous assessments had an on average 4-fold and pigs with a tail wound 11-fold increased odds of having tail damage during subsequent assessments. Similarly, pigs with a tail wound pre-weaning had 7-times higher odds of having tail damage at the end of rearing (P = 0.033). Pigs in groups with a higher weight variation (P = 0.030) and pigs with a greater weight gain (P < 0.001) had higher odds of having tail damage at the end of rearing. There was an increased chance of having tail damage post-weaning for piglets that were cross-fostered (P = 0.032) or that had a clinical impairment (P 0.047) during lactation. Females generally had a lower chance of having tail damage compared to castrated males. Early life risk factors were especially associated with tail damage in pigs pre-weaning. However, the results of this study suggest that early life risk factors are secondary to the previous tail status of pigs as risk factors for later tail damage.
Original languageEnglish
Article number105160
JournalPreventive Veterinary Medicine
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2020

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