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Scoring tail damage in pigs: an evaluation based on recordings at Swedish slaughterhouses

 
Linda J Keeling, Anna Wallenbeck, Anne Larsen and Nils Holmgren
       
  
Background
 

There is increasing interest in recording tail damage in pigs at slaughter to identify problem farms for advisory purposes, but also for benchmarking within and between countries as part of systematic monitoring of animal welfare. However, it is difficult to draw conclusions when comparing prevalence's between studies and countries partly due to differences in management (e.g. differences in tail docking and enrichment routines) and partly due to differences in the definition of tail damage.


Methods

 
Tail damage and tail length was recorded for 15,068 pigs slaughtered during three and four consecutive days at two slaughterhouses in Sweden. Tail damage was visually scored according to a 6-point scale and tail length was both visually scored according to a 5-point scale and recorded as tail length in centimetres for pigs with injured or shortened tails.


Results

 
The total prevalence of injury or shortening of the tail was 7.0% and 7.2% in slaughterhouse A and B, respectively. When only considering pigs with half or less of the tail left, these percentages were 1.5% and 1.9%, which is in line with the prevalence estimated from the routine recordings at slaughter in Sweden. A higher percentage of males had injured and/or shortened tails, and males had more severely bitten tails than females.


Conclusions


While the current method to record tail damage in Sweden was found to be reliable as a method to identify problem farms, it clearly underestimates the actual prevalence of tail damage. For monitoring and benchmarking purposes, both in Sweden and internationally, we propose that a three graded scale including both old and new tail damage would be more appropriate. The scale consists of one class for no tail damage, one for mild tail damage (injured or shortened tail with more than half of the tail remaining) and one for severe tail damage (half or less of the tail remaining).

  
 

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Article made possible through the contribution of Linda J Keeling, Anna Wallenbeck, Anne Larsen, Nils Holmgren and BioMed Central.

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