How the Finnish prevent tail-biting in their non-docked pig herds 

Operating high health pig herds and keeping stress levels low is preventing tail biting in non-docked Finnish pigs.

In Finland, they have been operating 100% pigs finished with non-docked tails for many years.

Although routine tail docking is prohibited in the EU, 95-99% of pigs in Europe are still docked.

Speaking at the Pigs Tomorrow conference, pig vet Taneli Tirkkonen, of Atria Pork, the largest pig processor in Finland, puts the success of running systems with non-docked tails down to good health, larger-than-average pen sizes and adequate feeding and drinking space, which keeps stress levels low.

See also: 4 early signs of tail biting to watch for on pig farms

He said the incidence of tail-bitten pigs seen on the slaughter line was about 2.5%, but could be nearer to 4%.

Average mortality from birth to slaughter is 2%, with a very small proportion (0.3% or lower) due to tail biting.

He said managing tail biting comes down to strict management.

“At Atria Pork, our systems are almost totally integrated.

“We have our own genetics, feed mills, produce all the pigs, slaughter them and then sell to the consumer.

“Our biggest finisher has more than 15,000 pigs.”

Below are factors he said are important in keeping stress levels low:

  1. Above-average drink and feeding space. Most pigs are on a restricted liquid feed and all pigs can eat at the same time. This removes competition at feeders. They have 32-35cm trough space a pig. Pigs are fed three to six times a day. There is also more than average drinker space, with one drinker for every 10 pigs.
  2. Space per pigs for weaners is 0.4sq m and 0.9sq m for finishers, with almost all on partly slatted floors (at least a third slatted).
  3. Enrichment material in all pens.
  4. Consistent nutritional quality of feed, mainly from distillery by-products, with very little soya.
  5. Excellent animal health. Producers don’t need to vaccinate for many things as they have eradicated disease and have a zero tolerance to salmonella.

All of Atria Pork farms are signed up to a national porcine quality system, called Sikava, which secures animal health and food safety and goes beyond EU and national legislation. Across the herds in Finland, 99% are specific pathogen free (SPF) and are negative for PRRS, salmonella, Aujetzky, Sarcoptic mange, Mycoplasma pneumoniae, swine dysentery and atrophic rhinitis.