Tail biting continues to be a major health and welfare challenge in commercial pig production with diet being a major risk factor. Researchers from Denmark have studied the link between a pig’s diet, gut health and mood, and have uncovered some interesting results.
Much research has shown a complex, bidirectional communication between gut microbiota, intestinal health, and the brain, affecting mood and behaviour via the so-called microbiota-gut-brain axis. Photo: Cecilie Kobek-Kjeldager
Tail biting is a pathological behaviour that can be seen particularly in weaners and grower-finishers in commercial pig production systems. Tail biting can result in pain and infection by the bitten pigs, and can create stress within a group of pigs, and is, therefore, a major health and welfare concern.
Although this challenge is multi-factorial with various management and housing factors increasing its risk, the European Commission summarises the following as the key risk factors for tail biting:
- Health and fitness
- Competition over resources
- Diet (feed composition and quality, amount consumed, form, phase-feeding strategy, poor accessibility)
- Pen structure/cleanliness
A study conducted by researchers at the Department of Animal Science at Aarhus University in Denmark aimed to review possible but still mainly unproven risk factors of tail biting in growing pigs related to feed composition and feed supply and their interplay with gut health and behaviour through the microbiota-gut-brain axis.
“While lack of enrichment is known to cause tail biting via an unfulfilled motivation to forage and explore, the mechanisms behind diet-related risk factors are still not clear. Research from the last decades on the existence of the Microbiota-Gut-Brain-Axis in mice, rats and humans may help us understand the mechanisms of how diet-related factors leads to tail biting and thus offer ways to mitigate it. Accordingly, studies are now emerging indicating a link between the gut microbiota and tail biting.” – Cecilie Kobek-Kjeldager
The microbiota-gut-brain axis
Much research has shown a complex, bidirectional communication between gut microbiota, intestinal health, and the brain, affecting mood and behaviour via the so-called microbiota-gut-brain axis.
Dysbiosis, or an imbalance in the composition of gut microbiota, is largely mediated by dietary factors and plays a role in many pathologies including those related to the brain, mental state and behaviour. It can be concluded, therefore, that diet plays a major role in affecting this axis and is therefore hypothesised to have a significant effect on tail biting.
What to do when tail biting occurs?
A tail biting outbreak is when biting leads to multiple victims per pen, or even spreads throughout the barn. Outbreaks are hard to stop. Here is how it is possible to overcome an outbreak. Read more…
The feeding factor
This study looked closely at the diet and suggests that diet-related risk factors for tail biting are under- and oversupply of protein (including tryptophan), lack of satiation, fine feed particle size, low dietary fibre content and a limited number of feeder spaces.
These factors can cause social stress, gastric ulcers, dysbiosis of the gut microbiota, disruption of …….