Effects of tail docking and tail biting on performance and welfare of growing–finishing pigs in a confinement housing system

Yuzhi Li, H. F. Zhang, L. J. Johnston, Wayne Martin, J. D. Peterson, J. F. Coetzee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


A study was conducted to evaluate the effect of tail docking on the welfare and performance of victimized pigs by tail biting and tail biters. Pigs (n = 240; 25.7 ± 2.9 kg average weight), including 120 pigs that were tail docked at birth and 120 pigs that remained with intact tails, were used. Pigs were housed in 8 pens of 30 pigs in a confinement barn for 16 wk, with 4 pens each housing pigs of both sexes with docked or intact tails. Tail biters and victimized pigs with damaged tails were identified during outbreaks of tail biting. Growth performance was monitored, and skin lesions on the tail, ears, and body were assessed. Blood samples were collected from focal tail biters, victimized pigs, and nonvictimized pigs for analysis of total serum protein, IgG, and substance P concentrations. When pigs were marketed, carcass weights and the number of pigs with carcass trim loss were recorded. During the growing– finishing period, 48% of pigs with docked tails and 89% of pigs with intact tails experienced lesions on their tails, including 5% of docked pigs and 30% of intact pigs identified as victimized pigs that experi- enced puncture wounds with signs of infection on their tails or loss of tails (P < 0.001). Victimized pigs tended to gain less weight (P = 0.07) between 17 and 21 wk of age than other pigs when tail biting prevailed in this study. Victimized pigs were more frequently (P = 0.04) sold for less than full value and had a lower dressing percentage (P < 0.001) compared with nonvictimized pigs. For victimized pigs, total serum protein and IgG concentrations were elevated 5 d after tails were injured, suggesting that tail damage can cause inflammation, which may lead to carcass abscesses and trim loss. Compared with victimized pigs and nonvictimized pigs, tail biters had lower total serum protein (P = 0.01) and IgG (P = 0.01) concentrations, indicating that tail biters may experience poor immune functions. Results of this study demonstrated that tail docking reduced tail damage in pigs kept in a confinement system. Tail damage can cause inflammation and reduce the value of market pigs. More research is needed to test whether compromised immune functions predispose pigs to tail biting.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4835-4845
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of animal science
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
1The authors greatly appreciate the National Pork Board and the Pork Check-Off for financial support of this project. 2Corresponding author: yuzhili@umn.edu Received March 20, 2017. Accepted September 2, 2017.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 American Society of Animal Science. All rights reserved.


  • Immunoglobulin G
  • Pigs
  • Skin lesions
  • Tail biting
  • Tail docking
  • Total serum protein


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