If you look carefully in most textbooks, they don't cover tail biting well at all. Why is this? Maybe it's because tail biting is a complex disorder liable to break out at any time, with a whole raft of causes suggested. So authors feel hesitant to write about it. The first article I ever wrote was on this subject over 35 years ago - and in those days I was as misguided as anyone.
Since the 1960s, I've tangled with several hundred cases. Those cases together with scientific research leads me to suggest the following approach to an infuriating and painful disorder.
Something To Do Pigs have a natural rooting instinct. They are inquisitive, curious and aware animals. So when not eating, drinking and sleeping, they are looking for something to do. And if they can't find something to do, then they'll look for trouble.
Yet we keep them in overcrowded and unnatural conditions. Sure, modern production means we have to do this - compared to the wild, anyway.
What we've got to ensure is that we don't overstep the overcrowding or unnaturalness. Both cause restlessness or low-level stress (anxiety).
Happy pigs rest for over 82"percent" of their time, dozing away the hours. So 18"percent" of their time is spent being inquisitive and looking for something to do.
We must give any confined grower pig something to do - a ball, an old tire, a heavy log, some greens, even a sod of earth. But don't give them chains because they swing and slap other pigs in the face, raising the restlessness level. In the wild, pigs do not graze branches like cattle, they root. So give them rootability.
Next, keep the pigs comfortable and resting. Contented pigs do not tail bite. I've seen it time and time again across 35 years of farm advisory work. If your pigs aren't dozing away 20 hours a day, you should hold a restlessness audit. Ask yourself what you are doing, inadvertently, to raise the restlessness level.
Table 1 shows the most common errors taken from my farm diary of over 200 cases of tail biting and associated vices like ear biting, ear-base sucking, flank nudging/biting, vulva biting. About half were followed up on and most were under control. All seemed to be involved in the recreational phase of needing something to do, which turned into deliberate wounding.
Greasy Pig I field quite a few questions on this annoying disfigurement from U.S. hog producers. When appearance and growth ratio are your pride and joy, how infuriating it is to suffer a sudden outbreak of this bacterium, Staph. hyicus. Left too long, pigs stall out and some die.
Greasy pig is best treated if caught early, which often is among the weaned pigs, although it can occur in older stock. If you look at the weaned pigs twice a day, then you'll notice that some seem dull and listless. I examine these very carefully for reddened skin and the occasional spots around the eyes and on the head and stomach areas. One pig may be more advanced, in which case the spots get greasy and tend to run together. Then it's time for treatment.
Confirm greasy pig with the veterinarian, if you wish. But once you've seen it, you'll pick up the signs pretty quickly if it happens again.
By the way, if you've got a bad outbreak, then you have not jumped on it quickly enough. Make a mental note to improve your inspection vigilance in the future.
If you've got a problem, I and several good pig veterinarians have a protocol that works in the U.K.
Inject the worst cases, or the first-affected, with Lincomycin (Pharmacia & Upjohn) and spray from a reasonable distance each day (bad outbreaks) or twice a week (less severe cases) all the weaners with a microsol biocide called Virkon S (Durvet), which shouldn't harm this age of pig.
Should the bacterium backtrack into suckling litters, inject with amoxycillin at weaning. Badly affected pigs should be given an antibiotic injection from your veterinarian.
(Note: Different countries will have different products/brand names so do check with your veterinarian first.)
As affected pigs dehydrate, use electrolytes.
While the outbreak persists, discuss with your veterinarian the possibility of a penicillin injection for the sows prior to farrowing. S. hyicus can originate from the vagina.
Staph. hyicus gets in through bites, wounds and abrasions, mange and lice attacks. Future prevention depends on first reviewing your skin damage possibilities - clumsy teeth clipping/docking or castrating; rough floors and sore knees; fighting; mange, etc.; projections, corners; and narrow access gates; weighing.
Wash sows on entry to the farrowing houses.
Other Likely Causes Herds should build up an immunity to Staph. hyicus. When this protection weakens or fails, the bacterium flares up. This is why we often see it as a problem after PRRS and similar primary virus infections.
High humidity, lack of circulating air and condensation are likely predisposing factors.
Overstocking, that worldwide failing, doesn't help.
I suspect that ensuring adequate B-group vitamins may help, including biotin. Check out your levels against Table 2