Tips for reducing tail-biting in pigs

Tips for reducing tail-biting in pigs
2021-03-11

In field trials, AllBite blocks contributed to a 93% success rate in reducing or stopping tail-biting. The key is early identification and implementation of AllBite into pens where tail-biting is occurring.

Aggressive behaviour in pigs — whether it is tail-, flank-, ear- or vulva-biting — is a frustrating management problem, leading to costly losses.  Incidents of tail-biting, in particular, are among the top behavioural problems in grow-finish pigs that can lead to economic looses due to reductions in gain, secondary infections, death or carcass condemnations.

What are the causes of tail-biting in pigs?

Studies have shown that pigs are attracted to the taste and sight of blood, and if a pig draws blood from accidentally biting a pen-mate’s tail, doing so could elicit the negative behaviour in that individual pig or even spread to the entire group of pigs. However, natural behaviour is only one piece of the puzzle. Numerous other factors can increase the prevalence of tail-biting, such as environmental stressors (e.g., temperature variation, lighting, ventilation, etc.), dietary issues and health challenges.

Four tips on how to prevent tail-biting in pigs

1. Start with the basics: Feed, water, ventilation, temperature and stocking density 

Feed: Providing ready access to feed is essential for optimizing average daily gains. Conversely, restriction of or inadequate access to feed will cause slower growth and can contribute to aggressive behaviour, such as tail-biting. Feed restriction is most commonly caused by out-of-feed events that are the result of equipment malfunctions, feed bridging or feed management errors. The second-most common cause of feed restriction is feeder settings being adjusted too tightly.

Water: Just as with feed, it is important to provide ready access to drinking water. Restricting the water intake of pigs can lead to reduced feed intakes and may also contribute to aggressive behaviour. Make sure all of the pigs have enough water access points and that the flow rate is adequate enough to meet their water needs.

Ventilation: Poor ventilation, especially in the late fall and winter months, can quickly induce aggressive behaviours. Make sure the ventilation is adequate enough to at least remove pit gasses from your facility. Poor air quality in barns irritates animals and is a major catalyst accelerating aggression in pigs.

Temperature: In warmer months, heat stress is of great concern and is something that barn managers and employees should keep an eye on. When pigs reach their upper critical temperature, they begin to experience heat stress, which can trigger negative behaviours, such as tail-biting.

Stocking density: Overstocking induces extra stress in animals due to the increased competition for feed and water resources in the pen. As such, it is critically important to relieve stocking density by evenly distributing pigs throughout all of the pens. Limited space in pens is a common trigger for tail-biting.

2. Provide balanced nutrition

Nutritional imbalances or improperly balanced diets are contributing factors that can increase the likelihood of aggressive behaviour. Under-budgeting and/or under-formulating lysine for high lean growth genetics can lead to vice behaviour by restricting the genetic growth potential of the animal. Inadequate sodium in the diet can also lead to aggressive behaviour.

3. Look for signs of health challenges

Significant viral challenges, like PRRS and the flu, can lead to increased incidences of aggressive behaviour in pigs. Consult your veterinarian on the best course of action to relieve any health challenges in your operation.

4. Keep calm and entertain

Pigs are naturally very curious animals that utilize their mouths as a means of exploring and learning more about their environment. As such, providing enrichment that is stimulating and that biologically relieves stress is crucial.

The AllBite block is a molasses-based block designed to discourage tail-biting and other aggressive vice behaviours. AllBite adds a new stimulus to the pigs’ environment, thus allowing pigs to exhibit foraging behaviours and to bite and chew on the block instead of their pen-mates.

AllBite combats aggressive behaviour and it is delivered in a form that provides a sensory stimulus to a group of pigs. Researched and tested in the field, AllBite has a 93% success rate in reducing or stopping tail-biting. The key is early identification, followed by the introduction of AllBite into pens where tail-biting and other aggressive behaviours are occurring.