In cartoons, pigs are often depicted having curly pink tails that resemble springs. However, if you visit Italian pig farms, you are not likely to see any of them having such feature. Why? Because farmers are cutting the pigs’ tails down.
Actually, the practice of cutting pigs’ tail has been banned by European Commission. However, the farmers in Italy, and many other European countries, feel the urge to cut those curly pink tips off the chubby mammals.
If we use human as an analogy for this practice, unlike trimming our hair, this controversial practice is more similar to circumcision. It is more than merely aesthetics, nor for giving them identity. That’s why European Commission, and even Italian government, ban the practice.
So, what’s actually behind this tail docking activity? Here, in this article, we are going to talk about it.
Early Age Circumcision
The ‘ritual’ of cutting pig’s tail has been practiced for ages, that’s why law regulators are finding it’s hard to completely ban the practice immediately. If you think that those pigs’ tails are cut latter in their lives, you are wrong.
Tail docking practice is usually done when the piglets are still three to four days old, meaning that they have been ‘circumcised’ since their early age. It might seem cruel, but farmers are doing it for a reason: to keep their livestock healthy and happy.
At least that’s what they said. In fact, about 98% of farmers in two of Italy’s main pig breeding regions believe that cutting pigs tails can give them healthier and happier pigs. But how can pigs become healthier and happier when specific part of their body is removed?
Well, the reason is because farmed pigs have the tendency to bite each other’s tail. This habit may result in severe injury that can give them severe infection and eventually death. The wound may also further affect their overall healthiness and immunity against diseases.
That’s not the only outcome of tail-biting. Those who survive the physical suffering and infection from being tail-bitten by their farm-mates are prone to acute trauma and lasting discomfort. Pigs are sensitive animals, and even the smallest mental discomfort can affect their physical health.
So, why do pigs bite each other’s tail in the farm? Tail-biting is actually a complex problem to explain, let alone to solve. There are many reasons why pigs are biting each other’s tail, but if we draw a conclusion to describe it, the answer is because of stress.
Inadequate farm management and environmental conditions are the main reasons why pigs are stressed in farms. European Commission explained the six key factors that may cause those pigs lose their minds.
The first is boredom and frustration. Pigs naturally have a strong need to explore their environment and go sniffing around to find food. In a populated farm, this urge to explore is suppressed. Stressed pigs can easily lose their minds and start biting their mates’ tails.
Three other key factors are competition, pen structure, and pen cleanliness. Living in densely populated pen means you have to deal with uncomfortable environment. The uneasiness can come from high competition rate, lack of cleanliness, low air quality, also agonizing humidity and thermal condition.
The other two factors that can make pigs lose their minds are lack of nutrients and diseases. Good overall health, including sufficient nutrient intake, can help the pigs to avoid stress. Pigs with poor health as the result of insufficient nutrient intake or diseases are highly prone to stress.
Although cutting a little part of piglets’ tail doesn’t really affect their overall well-being, but ethically this is a kind of animal abuse. However, on the other end of the spectrum, ensuring all the pigs in their farm well-being condition is pretty hard for the farmers in Italy.
Not only because those pigs cannot communicate with human, so they can tell what’s wrong with them, but also because tail-biting incidents usually happen in a sudden. The incident can also lead to a chain-group-reaction, as when a pig bites its mate’s tail, the victim may then bite another pig’s tail, and so on.
So, as an early prevention stage, the farmers just cut short their piglets’ tails. “In theory, in order for a vet to be able to dock a pig’s tail, they had to declare that there were lesions on the sow’s teats, or on the ears or tails of other pigs,” said Enrico Moriconi, a former vet to The Guardian.
“But tails are cut when the piglets are five days old. It’s impossible to know at that point if the group will behave in this way. It’s just assumed that this kind of breeding leads to tail-biting, so they cut them off,” Moriconi added.
Pigs usually raised in crowded pens in Italy, this is the reason why most pigs are prone to physical (even psychological) contact with one another. Actually there are so many things that the farmers can do to avoid stress and unnecessary contact in the pens, but the farmers need to either increase the quality of the pens or decrease the number of pigs raised. Both of those options means less profit.
Treat Them Well
So, looking on the background of this story, is it really that bad living in Italy’s pig farms? In fact, global warming also plays a role in this case. “The problems start during the summer. You can give them little showers to make them feel better but it’s impossible to fight such a hot climate,” said Stefano Salvaran, a pig farmer.
However, it doesn’t mean that raising pigs in Italy with the most modest way without using such kind of animal abuse is impossible. As mentioned above there are about 98% of farmers who cut the tails of their pigs.
The rest 2% never do that, because they have their own method to avoid tail-biting. Pietro Pizzagalli, a farmer in Senna Lodigiana, has stopped docking pig tails about four years ago. “We decided we wanted to do things differently,” Pizzagalli said.
“We put fewer pigs per square meter than the law requires. We get a smaller quantity of meat produced, but we believe that it’s worth it,” he said. By less, he didn’t mean much less, because annually his farm can still produce 30,000-35,000 pigs.
By raising fewer pig per square meter, he said that he has the chance to make the pens cleaner, giving more space for pigs to do their own things, and gives a little bit more hygiene to each individual. In addition, less crowded pens also mean slightly cooler temperature which can help avoid stress. So, why don’t we spreads this information to inform those tail-docking farmers?