Just like dogs, pigs use their tails to express their emotions, wagging them when happy and hiding them between their legs when they are stressed or scared. Yet this [tail docking] is done to piglets without aesthetic. – Kim Rathbone on Twitter
I’ve just bumped into piglet tail docking on Twitter. There’s a picture of a little piglet having his tail removed through what appears to be a cauterisation process. It looks painful. The pig looks as though he’s in pain. And he’s obviously heavily distressed by the look of his expression. It got me thinking. Why are their tails docked in the first place?
The reason why they are docked
It is to reduce the risk of tail biting in older pigs. Yes, older pigs bite their tails. It is believed that this is because they are stressed and uncomfortable. They are looking for something to divert their attention. It appears to be a form of displacement activity.
The reason, therefore, for cutting off the tails of piglets is because of what humans do to the pigs. They make their lives uncomfortable and stressful.
And, they compound that stress and discomfort by cutting off their tails when they are young. Does that sound right to you? It seems to be compounding the problem; making it worse. Far better to reduce the stress suffered by older pigs. No?
And I presume that because pigs can’t bite their tails it, in a way, hides the fact that they are stressed. Perhaps humans like this. They don’t want to be reminded that they are stressing up their livestock
Is pig tail docking painful?
A common-sense answer to the question would be yes. In fact, it is hard to find any other answer. However, I looked up a scientific answer which confirms that it is painful. It is carried out without painkillers or anaesthetics when the piglet is 3 to 4 days old.
The scientists concluded that “piglets undergoing the tail-docked treatments and the castration treatment exhibited more behaviours indicative of pain, such as standing longer with the head lowered in the 16 minutes after treatment, than those in the sham handling treatment group (i.e. the treatment that wasn’t actually a treatment at all; a control to the study)”.
The fact that pigs are intelligent makes it more likely that they’ll be distressed and feel acute pain.
Tail docking of pigs is performed routinely because tail biting is a common and serious welfare problem in pig production. It is a fact of life for millions of pigs. It seems that farmers present the practise as being good for pig welfare. It is not. It is more pain being delivered to more pigs as a byproduct of the stress (emotional pain) that they put them under when they are older.
One website says that “docking can cause an acute stress response”. However, this study funded by the National Pork Board stated that the acute stress caused by the procedure is justified by the long-term benefits but more research is needed to find effective analgesic treatments.
More research is needed to find effective analgesic treatments that could reduce the distress caused by tail docking to the pigs and which are practical on-farm.