3 Ts Alliance highlights ultimate challenges to ending routine castration, tail docking and teeth clipping

World Animal Protection alongside a global group of experts is working collaboratively to explore the complex practicalities of ending painful management procedures for pigs including tail docking, teeth reduction and surgical castration, via The 3 Ts.
calendar icon 3 October 2019
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World Animal Protection alongside a global group of experts is working collaboratively to explore the complex practicalities of ending painful management procedures for pigs including tail docking, teeth reduction and surgical castration, via The 3 Ts (teeth, testicles, tails): A Global Stakeholder Alliance Addressing Painful Piglet Procedures. The ultimate purpose of this Alliance is to use the information they gather to develop an evidence-based case to take to the industry globally to support the phasing out of painful procedures to the benefit of pig welfare.

In the latest meeting, the alliance members discussed the barriers (technical, financial, regulatory, cultural) to ending painful management procedures raised in some circumstances (eg countries, regions, product types, or production systems) and potential solutions.

In this meeting, the members of the 3Ts Global Stakeholder Alliance Addressing Painful Piglet Procedures have acknowledged the evidence for piglet pain associated with tail docking, teeth reduction and castration, and further that pain mitigation strategies are ineffective in adequately reducing the pain. They have acknowledged the various challenges or barriers to ending painful piglet procedures and see benefit in outlining these challenges in detail as a precursor to profiling solutions.

"We believe that challenges can be overcome to end painful piglet procedures for the benefit of pig welfare."

-3Ts Global Stakeholder Alliance Addressing Painful Piglet Procedures-

Ultimate challenges to ending these painful procedures

There are often underlying factors to commonly expressed technical barriers to ending painful piglet procedures. These underlying factors need to be addressed alongside the specific technical barriers and to enable well-established solutions to be implemented on farms.

Underlying factors include:

  • Pricing – farmers operate within narrow profit margins and need to focus on maximising production to minimise costs rather than balance production and pig welfare factors. There can be benefits to producers in improving welfare, but important that they are supported by price signals from retailers.
  • Knowledge, education and training on pig husbandry & management – limited knowledge and experience of on-farm solutions, wider welfare issues and benefits of ending painful piglet procedures.
  • Mindset and tradition – difficulty to change practices that have been implemented for decades, with concern for the unknown and reluctant to tackle the underlying factors (e.g. causes of damaging behaviour) that result in the use of painful procedures without knowing the consequences.
  • Wider industry involvement or collaboration – not all supply chain actors are aware or involved when changes are required and therefore may be reluctant to support changed practices or consider cost implications (e.g. retailer driven change is needed).
  • Competitiveness and risk – action to end painful piglet procedures in one market or in one part of the supply chain raises competitiveness concerns unless all parties move together or in agreement with trading partners.
  • Welfare monitoring – animal welfare outcomes are often not monitored on farm or at the slaughterhouse.
  • Animal welfare science – animal welfare science has a history of focusing on technical on-farm solutions and not the broader economic or social context that impacts on take up of viable solutions to ending painful piglet procedures.

Procedure specific challenges

There are also specific factors relating to each procedure and to different stakeholders or stages in the supply chain that need to be addressed to enable solutions to be implemented. They are as follows:

Tail docking

  1. Changing housing and management – either farms don’t measure the welfare and production benefits or are more concerned about the risks (eg, impact on manure management of adding edible / manipulable substrates or other enrichment) and additional costs.
  2. Concern around biosecurity when edible enrichment is used – mycotoxins, internal parasites, rodents (lack of knowledge on substrate sourcing, storage and presentation).
  3. Farms/producers are not able (sometimes not willing) to afford the implementation of management strategies (feed/water space, health, environmental conditions, nutrition, stocking density, early life experiences, bedding material and/or effective enrichment, avoiding mixing, additional staff time) needed to enable them to raise intact tailed pigs.
  4. The currently prevailing focus is on technical performance indicators at specific production phases above health/welfare outcomes and longer-term productivity across the production phase may mask wider benefits of systems that raise pigs with intact tails.
  5. Farms may not be designed to facilitate husbandry practices to raise pigs with intact tails. Retrofitting to improve farm design is possible, however in some contexts, investment costs can form a barrier to retrofitting within the life cycle of farm infrastructure (25-30 years).
  6. False/mis-information based on old science or perceptions of best practice can be circulated. New research and best practice on large scale commercial farms is not getting to those who play a role in changing the system.
  7. Lack of investment in labour to manage pigs with intact tails. Good management, pig observation, knowledge of behaviour and signs of unrest is key to managing pigs with intact tails.
  8. Where legislation on routine tail docking exists (EU), enforcement is lacking (except for Finland and Sweden where a tail docking ban was incorporated into country legislation).
  9. Effective enrichment is reserved for tail biting outbreaks or risky periods rather than provided throughout the production cycle.
  10. Important to note that some farms or types of system are inherently associated with poor animal welfare, with high levels of tail biting when tails are docked. Such systems would need to reduce tail biting with docking before considering raising intact tail pigs. Considerations to phase such farms in step-wise process: (1) measure tail damage of docked pigs (eg, at slaughter); 2) improve underlying issues and reduce tail biting; then 3) work to phase out tail docking).
curly pig tails

Teeth reduction

  1. Tropical and sub-tropical climates enhance the risks in hot/humid conditions where sows are heat stressed with reduced feed intake and milk production.
  2. Hyperprolific sow genetics means more pressure on the sow to produce enough milk for the litter (especially in hot climates) and these sows need closer management and improved nutrition to meet their needs.
  3. Focus on individual key performance indicators (eg, piglets weaned per sow per year), rather than longer-term management, performance and welfare indicators means increasing litter size.
  4. Not enough functional teats for the number of piglets, making management practices (eg, cross-fostering or nurse sow use) lead to increased damaging behaviour.
  5. Staff availability and quality – it is not always possible to get skilled labour and lack of availability around the clock to deal with issues before the onset of damaging behaviour.
  6. Wrong focus of management – looking at the piglets rather the sow (including sow health, comfort, feeding patterns, nutrition and milk production).


  1. Knowledge/mis-information – slaughterhouses or customers purchasing whole pigs are not expecting to see testicles on the carcass, hence they may not accept these pigs or pay less, due to fear of boar taint. Some markets do not accept intact boars.
  2. Some companies fear that use of immunocastration will be equated to hormones and consumers may even fear it having the same effect on humans when consuming the pork. There is however no concrete evidence to substantiate these concerns.
  3. Fear of failure when being the first to adopt a new strategy – easier to continue with surgical castration than risk of being the first to announce a change, since mis-information is quickly spread via media etc. and myths are hard to counter.
  4. Trade risk – fear over losing important customers (especially in the growing Asian market who are sensitive to boar taint and less familiar with castration alternatives).
  5. Perceived concern over damaging aggressive or sexual behaviour in boars (and reduced welfare) vs the welfare of surgical castration with as good as possible pain management.

Solutions suggest that challenges can be overcome

Identifying the challenges is key to establishing and implementing solutions. There is growing evidence to suggest that challenges can be overcome shown by case studies of good practice.

There is a significant role for the retail sector to enable change within the supply chain by clearly articulating expectations and making long term commitments on ending painful piglet procedures for welfare reasons.

The 3 Ts global stakeholder alliance met in September to further discuss the solutions to the identified technical, financial and socio-cultural challenges and will issue a further communique on the findings.

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