Tail-docking must not be performed as a matter of routine. However, the law permits tail-docking of suckling pigs when the pigs are 2 to 4 days old, but only if it is documented that there is no damage to the tail due to tail-docking. In Denmark, many attempts have been made in order to avoid tail-docking in the long term.
The law permits tail-docking of suckling pigs when the pigs are 2 to 4 days old, but only if it is documented that there is no damage to the tail due to tail-docking. In addition, other measures must have been performed to solve the problem of tail biting – for example, there must be sufficient rummaging and investigation material and there must not be too many pigs in the pigsties. In Denmark, no more than half of the pigs have their tails docked and there are no rules for this in the EU legislation.
Tail biting may result in infections in the tail that will require medical treatment. This means that the bacteria may spread from the tail and cause blood poisoning and abscesses in other places of the body, often on the skeleton. The abscesses often result in the pig being rejected at slaughtering. Tail biting may therefore entail a financial loss due to increasing costs for treatment and reduced body weight gain.
Several factors influence the occurrence of tail biting
The reason for tail biting is multi-factorial and it is not caused by only one or some elements around the pig. However, an increasing number (frequency) of tail biting is seen if there are problems in the pig’s immediate environment, such as draught, lack of rummaging and/or investigation material, insufficient ventilation and similar.
SEGES, the Knowledge Centre for Pig Production under the Danish Agriculture & Food Council, has for many years made an attempt to clarify the reasons and reduce the number of tail biting in order to avoid tail-docking entirely in the long term. However, the Danish pig industry is of the opinion that tail-docking is the safest method to reduce the risk of tail biting. It is a relatively small intervention early in the suckling pig's life unlike the risk of the pig being subjected to tail biting later on in its life if it is not tail-docked.