The use of the cautery iron rather than the conventional blunt trauma cutting method of tail docking can reduce the elevated stress response seen in newborn piglets without the use of analgesics or anesthetics.

Tail docking is routinely performed on piglets to prevent tail biting behavior.

Because analgesics and anesthetics are not routinely used to relieve the pain associated with tail docking on commercial hog farms, research was conducted to compare the stress response to tail docking using two methods: cautery iron (CAUT) and the more commonly used blunt trauma cutters (BT).

Six-day-old piglets' tails were docked using CAUT, BT or sham tail docked, where pigs were handled as if docking tails, but leaving their tails intact (CON). Blood samples were taken prior to tail docking and at 30, 60 and 90 minutes after tail docking to evaluate the effect of the procedure on cortisol concentrations, commonly used to assess stress levels (Figure 1, page 24). Piglet behavior was also recorded in the farrowing crate using one-minute scan samples via live observations for 60 minutes prior to and 90 minutes after tail docking.

Sixty minutes after tail docking, pigs tail docked using CAUT and CON had similar cortisol levels. Therefore, tail docking using cautery may reduce the acute stress response to tail docking.

Piglets tail docked using CAUT and BT spent more time posterior-scooting compared with CON piglets between 0 and 15 and 31 and 45 minutes after tail docking (Fiqure 2).

Elevated blood cortisol can be reduced with cautery iron rather than the BT method of tail docking. Although the tail docking-induced rise in cortisol was prevented by using CAUT, the behavioral responses to BT and CAUT docking methods were similar.

Researchers: M.A. Sutherland, P.J. Bryer, N. Krebs and J.J. McGlone, all of Texas Tech University. Contact Sutherland by phone (806) 742-2805 (ext. 253), fax (806) 742-4003 or e-mail