A new high-tech solution to the problem of tail biting in pigs has been devised
by Scottish scientists and could become an alternative to the controversial last-resort
practice of tail docking. The research is a collaboration between Scotland’s
Rural College (SRUC),Scottish farm technology company Innovent Technology Ltd,
pig supply chain partners including north-east animal feed firm Harbro, and the Agricultural Engineering Precision Innovation Centre (Agri-EPI).
The initiative is designed to drive higher welfare standards on farms and involves a system of 3D cameras which are installed above feeders to detect whether a pig’s tail is up and curly, or held down against the body, which researchers have shown is a sign that tail biting is about to begin.
The work was carried out using 23 groups of weaner-grower pigs which were regularly scored for any signs of tail injury, and tail biting was stopped as soon as an outbreak was detected.
It has been published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE. Lead author of the study, Dr Rick D’Eath from SRUC, said: “Tail biting results in pain and sickness for bitten pigs and severe economic losses for farmers as infection through tail wounds results in abattoir condemnation of meat. This condemnation alone can cost a producer up to 1% of the carcase value and a loss for the processor of 1% of saleable carcase from the pig. There are also unquantified on-farm costs as a result of the increased labour and veterinary treatments resulting from an outbreak. Tail docking of piglets is partly effective at reducing tail biting in later life, but is seen as an undesirable mutilation and its routine use is banned in the EU.” He said that automatically measuring tail posture could act as an early warning of tail biting. Dr D’Eath added: “The challenge for us now is to develop this promising technology into a robust on-farm early warning system that works on any pig farm.”