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Do I Need To Tail Dock, Teeth Clip and Castrate?

Teeth clipping and tail docking are not permitted under the PROOF Standard because these procedures are simply not necessary on a well managed pastured pig farm.

Tail Docking Piglets

There is one major reason that the pork industry has found tail docking to be necessary - piglet boredom.
Piglets confined to small pens without any form of stimulation will become bored and bite each others tails. Cutting off their tails will solve one problem but will not resolve the piglets frustration.

Piglet are not going to have their tail bitten off if you choose not to perform this procedure.  Tail biting may happen but it is usually only the odd tail that goes missing and often as a result of being stepped on by mum! When serious tailing biting occurs it tends to happen in 'outbreaks' and if you take the time to assess your operation, you will be able to pinpoint possible causes.  The most common reason is overcrowding but others could include:
  • mixing groups of piglets that provokes extended antagonistic behavior
  • frustration and boredom
  • overstocking
  • competition at feeders
Environmental issues that may contribute to the extended restlessness of the piglets:
  • lack of stimulation in their environment
  • excessive dust
  • inability to cool or warm themselves
  • wet conditions that prevent them having a dry sleeping area

Be aware that if tail docking is performed incorrectly, it can result in serious problems for the piglets, much worse than having their tails bitten.

Prevention of Tail Biting

The best defense against tail biting is providing an environment that the piglets will thrive in.  This would include:
  • open pastures to explore
  • enough space to escape aggressive piglets
  • environmental stimulation
  • access to dirt to dig in
  • provision of toys such as plastic pipe, hessian bags
  • straw bedding
  • adlib feed to prevent aggression at feeders

Tail biting in a well managed, pastured free range environment is rare.

The Code of Practice recommends that tail docking be avoided wherever possible. It also recommends that management should be investigated if tail biting is a problem and that if docking is practiced, that it be carried out before pigs are 7 days of age.

Teeth Clipping Piglets

Damage to sows udders from piglets teeth is generally the result of environmental issues.
The use of farrowing crates renders the sow unable to control the behaviour of her offspring.  In a natural environment, if a piglet were to bite her it would be dealt with by a sharp reprimand from its mothers snout.  A farrowing crate prevents the sow from dealing with such a problem and allows the piglets unrestrained access to her.  If the sow is kept in a crate for her entire lactation, this serves to exacerbate the problem.

There will be the occasions were fighting for teats by littermates will result in facial lacerations. There is a much higher risk of these injuries becoming infected in a heavily stocked, intensive environment.  These are isolate incidences and should be dealt with individually.

These problems are rare when sows are allowed to farrow without the use of crates or conditions that restrict her free movement.

Piglet Castration

Generally, castration is no longer a common practice.  Pigs that are grown well by receiving optimal nutrition will reach market weight before they become sexually mature.

Castrated males will lay down a lot more fat, and may fall outside the requirements of your market.

If you are having problems with sexually active males, it would be advisable to separate the grower herd into males and females or look into the use of Improvac, a vaccine to prevent boar taint.

If your market requires you to do so and you do surgically castrate, be aware that the Code of Practice requires this procedure to be carried out before the age of 21 days.  It is a legal requirement that any procedure that renders a male pig sterile must be performed under anesthesia by a vet if the pig is older than 21 days.

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The opinions, advice and information contained in this website have not been provided at the request of any person but are offered by  PROOF and Australian Pig Farmers solely for informational purposes. While the information provided has been formulated in good faith, it should not be relied on as a substitute for professional advice. Australian Pig Farmers, PROOF or do not accept liability in respect of any action taken by any person in reliance on the content of this publication.

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