A new study on the tail docking of pigs in Europe has found that the majority of pigs are still docked, despite EU legislation on the issue.
Tail docking is the clipping of part of a piglet’s tail in its early life, to prevent other pigs from biting it. The procedure is usually carried out without any sufficient pain relief and since 1994, European legislation states that it cannot be done routinely and ONLY if there is sufficient evidence of tail biting and if other measures were taken to prevent it but failed.
Other suggested measures include providing pigs with more space, improving husbandry and environmental conditions, providing enrichment materials and modifying the management system In place.
Tail biting can prove an expensive task for farmers to deal with, due to increased health problems and dead animals due to abscesses and other issues caused by biting. A study in Ireland, carried out by Harley S, Boyle LA, O’Connell NE, More SJ, Teixeira DL, Hanlon, found that a producer’s losses from carcass condemnation and carcass trimmings amounted to €1.1 per pig slaughtered. This represented a 43% loss of the profit margin per pig at the time of the study.
The Study -
The study was carried out by researchers at the Federation of Veterinarians in Europe and It found that an average of 77% of pigs in Europe have their tails routinely docked.
The study was carried out via an online survey, with investigations into tail docking and the provision of enrichment material to pigs across 24 European countries. The team of researchers received 57-usable answers from 24 countries in total, with each respondent asked about the estimated percentage of tail-docked pigs, if they provide enrichment materials, and questions relating to risk fackros, challenges, the role of the veterinary practitioner and slaughterhouse monitoring.
Each respondent was classified in one of two categories based on expert opinion and on the percentages provided by the survey: 0) No-TD (No-Tail Docking): no or few tail-docked pigs (range from 0 to 5%) and 1) TD (Tail Docking): more or equal than 70% of tail-docked pigs (range from 70 to 100%).
The study found that an average of 77% of pigs in Europe still have their tails routinely docked.
In Scandinavian counties such as Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Finland, results differed greatly with less than 5% of pigs having had their tails routinely docked. Ireland featured as one of the highest listed countries on the list, which you can see in the picture below, with an average of 97.5% of pig populations surveyed having their tails routinely docked, in relation to a pig population of 1,527. (Pig Populations listed as Thousands of heads).
In terms of the provision of enrichment materials, the survey found that 67% of respondents provided suitable enrichment materials to their pigs. The percentage of suitable enrichment materials provided in Ireland was found to be an average of 46%, with an overall range from 16% to 76%.
Overall Results - The EU average of pigs docked routinely, across these 24 countries, was found to be 77%, with a median of 95%. An average of 67% reported providing enrichment materials.
Read the results of the study in full here.