If you’d told me years ago that it would be possible to keep antibiotic-free pigs, I’d probably have looked at you in bewilderment. But look where we are now, and the advances we’ve made in pig farming. Antibiotic-free pigs are no longer a thing of the future, but a reality, which is why I believe in long-tailed pigs.
We haven’t yet reached the stage where we’re able to supply large numbers of undocked pigs, but we’ve realised that we can supply them in small quantities. This gives us the confidence we need to succeed.
For us, it’s now clear that if the pigs are sufficiently comfortable, they are significantly calmer and bite their tails less or not at all. In the farrowing crates and meat-pig barns, this problem has been eliminated completely, but there is still some tail biting in the weaned-piglet barns. The first few weeks are always fine, but around the fourth week, when the piglets weigh approximately 25 kilos, their excretory behaviour changes. At this stage, the pens become dirtier, reducing comfort in the barns. This makes the animals more restless and more prone to tail biting. With small groups of pigs (twenty to thirty), we can properly address the problem and keep them separated so as to prevent tail biting. This also works if you integrate two or three pigs with fully intact tails into a larger group.
For larger groups, this approach is too labour-intensive and impracticable. We therefore need to make some changes to the pens, so we can address the pigs’ excretory behaviour on a larger scale when they reach that crucial age.
In addition to these changes, which we’ll make once the permits have been issued around the end of April, we’ll assess whether we can make any changes that would help calm the animals more. Tests have already been carried out with feed that is intended to make the animals feel more satiated.
If we start looking further ahead at that point, I hope we’ll eventually be able to combat tail biting even more effectively by examining the pigs’ origins. Earlier this year, we started individually registering the pigs with an RFID chip, which means we can also start recording data on tail docking and tail biting. There is currently not enough data for assessment, but this will hopefully change in the future and enable us to determine whether there are any genetic predispositions to aggression and, consequently, tail biting.
Either way, it is clear that we need to continue our research, because long-tailed pigs are a sign. Long-tailed pigs are happy, healthy pigs. This is not only positive for all the animals on the farm, but also for the farmer, the animals’ healthy growth and, therefore, the farmer’s income.