Tail docking and tail biting in pigs

Use this information to find out more about tail docking and reducing tail biting in pigs.

Tail biting is an undesirable behaviour that can occur in any group of pigs.

It can spread quickly in pig pens once it has started and can lead to painful tail injuries, infection, spinal abscesses and lameness.

Understand the risk factors

Tail biting is a complex and multifactorial problem. There are a number of known and identifiable risk factors associated with outbreaks and in order to understand why the problem is occurring, a systematic way of monitoring and recording tail-biting incidents and possible causes should be developed.

Identifying any problem before it becomes an issue and addressing the underlying cause of any tail biting should improve health, reduce antibiotic use and improve production.

To help owners/keepers find the solutions and management strategies that work best on a particular farm unit, the following six factors should be investigated, where necessary with the advice of a vet:

  • Thermal comfort, air quality and light
  • Health and fitness
  • Competition
  • Diet
  • Enrichment material
  • Pen structure and cleanliness

Assess and record the risks with WebHAT

The most important risk factors associated with tail biting have been identified by research funded by AHDB and the RSPCA, and carried out by the University of Bristol and the University of Newcastle.

From this research, an evidence-based, online husbandry advisory tool (WebHAT) has been developed.

WebHAT is an interactive website designed to help owners/keepers spot the early warning signs of tail biting, assess specific risks and find possible solutions and management strategies that work best on a particular farm unit.

It provides templates of data sheets for recording tail biting and can be used to generate a report of prioritised, key tail-biting risks and obtain practical suggestions to help address and reduce the specific risks identified on farm.

Explore the WebHAT tool

When should tail docking take place?

Tail docking is the removal of part of the pig’s tail in order to reduce the risk of tail biting in older pigs.

Routine tail docking is not legally permitted. It should only be done as a last resort, where there is evidence of injuries to other pigs’ tails, after improvements to the pigs’ environment and other management options have proven to be ineffective, or at the recommendation of a vet.

Your veterinary health plan should identify circumstances where tail docking may be necessary. Owners/keepers should keep records of the evidence of the measures instigated and their effects on improving the pigs’ welfare.

Where it is necessary to tail-dock, it must be carried out legally by a competent, trained operator before the seventh day of life, or by a vet.