Vegetarians International Voice for Animals

Mutilations

Any farm that feels that it must undertake mutilations of animals to prevent them injuring one another has very poor management systems. The government's Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) states:

"Mutilations can cause considerable pain and therefore constitute a major welfare insult to farm animals....on ethical grounds, the mutilation of livestock is undesirable." (2)

Tooth-Clipping

The FAWC state that tooth-clipping is widely carried out by pig farmers - including almost 100% of indoor (20) and more than two-thirds of outdoor farms (2). It is carried out to minimise damage to the sows' teats and to the cheeks of other piglets in the litter. However, damage to other piglets' is superficial and the reason that piglets may injure their mothers' teats is that the litter sizes have been increased from four to five piglets to 10 to 12.

Tooth-clipping exposes the pulp cavity and causes pain. If the teeth are cut too close to the gums, the teeth splinter and pulp infection sets in.

An obvious solution would be to reverse the breeding process so that litter sizes reduce.

Tail Docking

Tail docking - the amputation of the lower half of a pig’s tail - is carried out when there is a risk of pigs biting each others tails (known as tail biting) when they reach the ‘finishing stage’.

There is ALWAYS this risk on an intensive farm! Almost 100% of pigs killed for meat are raised on indoor units. A national survey by Exeter University in 1998 showed almost 100% of indoor units tail dock (20). Pigs do not bite each others tails and ears in the wild. It is accepted by the pig industry that tail and ear biting are manifestations of the bad conditions of factory farms. Lean says that they are:

"aberrant behaviours, suggesting management is at fault in being unable to satisfy the behavioural needs of the pigs". (1)

The piglets are rarely given anaesthetic when their tails are cut and a vet does not have to be present if the amputation is carried out in the first week of the piglet's life. Remarkably, the reason for tail docking is the belief that once the lower part of the tail is cut off, the remainder is more sensitive and pigs quickly escape when others try to bite it. This implies that the cut tail is painful. If tails are cut, another problem arises. Lean states that docked piglets will often show 'increased levels of neck and shoulder biting'.

Badly performed tail docking can lead to infection which may spread to the spinal cord causing spinal abscesses and deep pain. Arey (3) states:

"wounds can become infected, resulting in abscessations of the hindquarters and...spinal column. Secondary infection may occur in the lungs, kidney, joints and other parts."

Factory farming causes tail biting

Tail biting is caused by several factors inherent in intensive farming such as poor housing, early weaning, bad diet and build up of gases such as ammonia and carbon dioxide. It is not due to general aggression. PIC (Pig Improvement Company) veterinary manager states:

“Aggressive behaviour is targeted at the head not the rear and tail biting is more likely to be a sign of frustration caused by insufficient nutrition or lack of feeding space.” (13)

Nutrition

Research shows that tail-biting in growing pigs (as well as bar-biting in stall-housed sows in Europe, stone chewing in outdoor sows and high levels of aggression) are partly due to pigs being under nourished. Growing pigs may experience specific nutrient restriction when they are fed a single feed which is unsuitable for their age and weight.

Breeding pigs ‘may be fed restricted rations’ to stop them putting on weight and to make them ‘breed efficiently’ - in other words they tail bite because they are hungry.

The pig’s response in all cases is to attempt to forage. In the wild pigs would find food by digging, pushing, gnawing and rooting, however as Baynes et al acknowledge:

“many indoor farming environments have little potential to accommodate these behaviours.” (24a)

This ‘compromises welfare’ because the pig turns its attentions to tail-biting, excessive drinking or vacuum chewing.

Baynes et al state that pigs needn’t feel hungry and these ‘abnormal behaviours’ may be alleviated. They suggest reducing competition for food; using suitable high quality feed for growing pigs; providing materials for the pigs to forage eg straw for rooting and chewing; using chewable feed bags; using feeders which prolong eating (rations take minutes to eat; whereas eg rooting a large ball with feed around the pen takes longer and allows at least some fulfilment of natural behaviour.)

Early Weaning

Piglets are weaned naturally at about 12 to 13 weeks, however most farmed piglets are weaned too early at three to three and a half weeks (23). At this young age the piglets still have a strong need to suckle and deprived of their mother, nibble the ears and tails of their penmates. Several studies have shown that this is the case (5,6). Ear and tail chewing is rarely seen in piglets weaned at eight to 10 weeks but is common in piglets weaned early at three to five weeks (5). It is accepted that these behaviours are abnormal and reflect bad welfare conditions (6,7). McKinnon et al state:

"The greatly increased incidence of {chewing and nuzzling} appear to be mainly a result of weaning age but they are also affected by the subsequent environment, being more frequent in flat decks than in straw based housing systems." (6)

Despite the wealth of evidence to say the opposite, the National Farmers Union attempt to mislead by implying that tail biting occurs because pigs are ‘playful animals’! (24b)

In factory farms the piglets are taken from their mothers early so that the sow can be made pregnant again as soon as possible. The breeding stock are treated as breeding machines with no concern for the mother or piglets' needs. The farmer expects more than two litters per sow per year and this is only possible by weaning early.(See previous section on breeding.)

Bad Housing

As stated above, pigs are intelligent animals which would naturally spend much of their lives exploring a complex environment. More than 95% of fattening pigs (killed for meat) are kept in densely stocked, barren units where they have nothing to do. An outlet for their frustration and intense boredom is in the biting of other pigs. Day et al state that tail-biting is more common in barren systems and in overcrowded conditions (26).

Again this problem does not exist in the wild and is rare in farmed systems where pigs are given a richer, more stimulating environment (4). Even the simple addition of straw helps enormously (5, 6). In one study pigs were kept with or without straw. Tail biting took place in 11 out of 12 bare pens but in only 2 out of 13 straw pens (8).

Arey (1991) states:

"The prevention of tail-biting should be approached by improving the conditions in which the pigs are kept. The first measures which should be taken are the provision of bedding and more space to prevent overcrowding... Tail-biting is a sign that something is wrong with the system whether it is due to boredom, overcrowding, poor ventilation or diet. Its prevention should be of paramount importance." (3)

The Welfare of Livestock Regulations 2000 states:

"Neither tail-docking nor tooth clipping shall be carried out routinely but only when there is evidence, on the farm, that injuries to sows' teats or to other piglets have occurred or are likely to occur as a result of not carrying out these procedures. Where tooth clipping appears necessary, this shall only be carried out within seven days of birth."

The prevention of routine tail-docking and tooth-clipping is, on the face of it, an important step for pig welfare. However, the proviso that they may be carried out if there is evidence of tail biting or damage to sows' teats makes the law worthless.

This approach misunderstands the problem. As already stated, tail biting occurs because of factory farm conditions such as early weaning and overcrowded and barren environments - not because of a failure to tail-dock. Ironically, the law as it stands encourages farmers to think in terms of mutilating pigs if they are to be kept in intensive units.

The law is seriously weak when it comes to protecting farm animals - at the very least all mutilations should be outlawed. As should the conditions which lead to them being deemed necessary by the intensive farming industry.

Castration

The Farm Animal Welfare state:

"Castration is a mutilation which should be avoided wherever possible. However nowadays very few pigs in the UK are castrated compared with 25 years ago, when the industry castrated nearly all male pigs in order to avoid 'boar taint'."

The reason that pigs are now rarely castrated is that they reach slaughter weight more quickly and so are killed before they are sexually mature. This is achieved through genetic manipulation, diet and drugs.

Viva! believes all mutilations should be banned - along with the systems that created the so-called need for them.