Poor housing and tail biting | Viva! - The Vegan Charity

Poor housing and tail biting

Pigs are extremely intelligent, social animals who would naturally spend much of their lives exploring complex environments. Most fattening pigs are housed in densely stocked, barren units where they have nothing to do.

Adult pigs nearing the end of their short and miserable lives are housed in pens like these before being sent to slaughter © Viva!

Pig herds in Britain are increasing in size. In 2013, Viva! campaigned against the mega-factory farm in Foston, Derbyshire (74). The facility proposed by Midland Pig Producers (MPP) would have imprisoned up to 26,000 pigs at a time and sent around 1,000 pigs a week to slaughter. Over 42,000 people signed a petition against the farm in Foston and Midland Pig Producers withdrew their application in 2015 (75). In September 2015, the company appealed against a decision not to grant it a permit to operate (76). The threat of US-style intensive farming is becoming increasingly problematic.

Derbyshire County Council were to decide the fate of plans for what would be one of the largest pig farms Britain has ever known. However, in January 2016, MPP announced they were closing two farms including one at Foston (BBC Midlands Today, 27 January 2016).

Group housing is associated with increased risks of damaging behaviours including tail biting, belly nosing, excessive aggression and cannibalism in pigs. Evidence indicates that tail biting pigs are likely to be frustrated and hence experience reduced welfare. Tail biting is considered an abnormal behaviour, and the need to perform exploration and foraging behaviour is considered to be a major underlying motivation. The occurrence of tail biting has a multi-factorial origin but there is evidence that some causal factors hold more weight, such as the absence of straw, the presence of slatted floors and a barren environment. Absence of straw or a particulate, rootable substrate is an important hazard for tail biting. Despite the fact that UK farms often offer chains, it was stated by the European Food Safety Authority in 2007 in a Scientific Opinion that there is little evidence that provision of toys such as chains, chewing sticks and balls reduce the risk of tail biting (77). Heritability of tail biting has been evaluated and its value found to be high. Under common intensive farming conditions, tail docking reduces the frequency of tail biting, but does not completely eliminate the problem when unfavourable conditions persist (77).

Arey (1991) states (73):

The prevention of tail biting should be approached by improving the conditions in which pigs are kept. The first measures which should be taken are the provision of bedding and more space to prevent overcrowding... tail biting is a sign that something is wrong with the system whether it is due to boredom, overcrowding, poor ventilation or diet. Its prevention should be of paramount importance”. 

The Code of Recommendations for the Welfare of Livestock: Pigs and The Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2003 (S.I. 2003 No. 229), Schedule 6, Part II, paragraph 21 and 23 states that routine tail docking and teeth clipping or grinding is not permitted; however, tail docking can be carried out where there is evidence that injuries to sows’ teats or to other pigs’ ears or tails have occurred (62). This prohibition of routine tail docking and tooth clipping appears to be an important step for pig welfare. However, the provision that they may be carried out if there is evidence of tail biting or damage to sows’ teats makes the law worthless.

This approach misunderstands the problem. As stated previously in this report, tail biting occurs because of factory farm conditions such as early weaning and overcrowded and barren conditions, not because of a failure to tail dock. Ironically, the law as it stands encourages farmers to think in terms of mutilating pigs if they are to be kept in intensive units.

Farmers resort to mutilating piglets to prevent tail biting by bored, frustrated pigs in pens like this one later in life © Viva!

In recent years, pig meat consumers have desired leaner meat, which has in turn influenced the breeding, housing and management of pigs on farms. It has also led the industry to manipulate pig feed and the environment, as well as genetically engineer, in order to produce carcasses low in subcutaneous fat, in the fastest period of time. The law is seriously weak and flawed when it comes to protecting farmed animals. At the very least, all mutilations should be outlawed. As should the conditions which lead to them being deemed necessary by the intensive farming industry.

Pigs are viewed as commodities by the farming industry who rear them in ways that benefits production, rather than welfare © Viva!