Towards long(er) pig tails: New strategy to solve animal welfare problems

Bracke, M.B.M. 2010. Towards long(er) pig tails: New strategy to solve animal welfare problems. In: Lidfors, L., Blokhuis, H., Keeling, L., Proceedings of the 44th Congress of the ISAE, August 4-7 2010, Uppsala, Sweden, p. 135.

Despite a considerable scientific knowledgebase, many animal-welfare problems remain. Intelligent Natural Design (IND) is a promising approach designed to reduce long-lasting multifactorial welfare problems such as tail docking and tail biting in pigs. IND combines the advantages of applying scientific knowledge and human intelligence with one of the most intriguing ways to solve complex design problems, namely natural selection.
In order to reduce routine tail-docking in intensively-farmed pigs conditions for selection and evolution can be created artificially. A first generation of potential management strategies to deal with tail biting will be implemented in a selected number of farms informed by current scientific knowledge. Farmers may, for example, be implementing different enrichment materials in pens with undocked or partly docked pigs (which is in compliance with EC directive 2001/93 which prescribes raising undocked pigs to verify the need for routine tail docking). Selection of the best (‘fittest’) strategies from the first generation, e.g. as indicated by lowest levels of tail biting, will provide the starting point to implement the next generation comprising a new batch of farms or pigs adopting slightly modified replicates of previously best management strategies. Solutions can evolve in diverging directions, like species. To support the required information-exchange a database is built to assist farmers, extension and scientists to monitor and direct the IND process in preferred directions. Market opportunities, reducing existing problems with tail biting, meeting EU regulations, public concern, division of labour and ethical room for innovative manoeuvre should motivate farmers to participate in this process to ‘grow back’ the pig’s tail.
The IND methodology enhances but cannot promise actual solutions for welfare. Nevertheless, the point that natural selection may be used to improve welfare provides an interesting extension to the common view that the performance of natural behaviour is important for animal welfare.

Keywords: Tail biting; tail docking; pigs; solving animal welfare problems; stakeholder perceptions

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