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Prevalence and Financial Implications of Welfare Lesions in Irish Slaughter Pigs

02 September 2014

More than 40 per cent of the profit margin per pig could be attributable to tail biting in this study from Ireland.

Expansion of the meat inspection process to incorporate animal-based welfare measurements could contribute towards significant improvements in pig (Sus scrofa domesticus) welfare and farm profitability, according to Dayane Teixeira of the Animal & Grassland Research & Innovation Centre at Teagasc Moorepark in Ireland and co-authors from the University of Liverpool, Queens University Belfast and University College Dublin.

In a paper in Animal Welfare, they describe a study aimed to determine the prevalence of different welfare-related lesions on the carcass and their relationship with carcass condemnations and carcass weight. The financial implications of losses associated with carcass condemnations and carcass weight reductions related to the welfare lesions were also estimated.

Data on tail lesions, loin bruising and bursitis, carcass weight and condemnation/trimming outcome (and associated weights) were collected for 3,537 slaughter pigs (mean [± SEM] carcass weight: 79.2 [± 8.82] kg).

Overall, 72.5 per cent of pigs had detectable tail lesions, whilst 16.0 and 44.0 per cent were affected by severe loin bruising and hind limb bursitis, respectively. There were 2.5 per cent of study carcasses condemned and a further 3.3 per cent were trimmed.

The primary cause of carcass condemnations was abscessation. While tail lesion severity did not increase the risk of abscessation, it was significantly associated with carcass condemnation. Male pigs had a higher risk of tail lesions and of carcass condemnations.

The financial loss to producers associated with carcass condemnations and trimmings was estimated at €1.10 per study pig. Carcass weight was reduced by up to 12kg in cases of severe tail lesions. However, even mild lesions were associated with a significant reduction in carcass weight of 1.2kg. The value of the loss in potential carcass weight associated with tail lesions was €0.59 per study pig.

Combined with losses attributable to carcass condemnations and trimmings, this represented a loss of 43 per cent of the profit margin per pig, at the time of the study, attributable to tail biting.

The researchers conclude their findings illustrate the magnitude of the impact of tail biting on pig welfare and on profitability of the pig industry.

They also emphasise the potential contribution that the inclusion of welfare parameters at meat inspection could make to pig producers in informing herd health and welfare management plans.


Harley S., L.A. Boyle, N.E. O’Connell, S.J. More, D.L. Teixeira and A. Hanlon. 2014. Docking the value of pigmeat? Prevalence and financial implications of welfare lesions in Irish slaughter pigs. Animal Welfare. 23: 275-285.

September 2014

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