Tail docking in pigs: Acute physiological and behavioural responses

M. A. Sutherland, P. J. Bryer, N. Krebs, J. J. McGlone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

71 Scopus citations


Tail docking of piglets is a routine procedure on farms to control tail-biting behaviour; however, docking can cause an acute stress response. The objectives of this research were to determine the stress responses to tail docking in piglets and to compare two methods of tail docking; cautery iron (CAUT) and the more commonly used blunt trauma cutters (BT). At approximately 6 days of age, piglets were tail docked using CAUT (n = 20), BT (n = 20) or sham tail docked with their tails remaining intact (CON; n = 40). Blood samples were taken prior to tail docking and at 30, 60 and 90 min after tail docking to evaluate the effect of tail docking on white blood cell (WBC) measures and cortisol concentrations. The above experiment was repeated to observe behaviour without the periodic blood sampling, so as not to confound the effects of blood sampling on piglet behaviour. Piglet behaviour was recorded in the farrowing crate using 1 min scan-samples via live observations for 60 min prior to and 90 min after tail docking. Total WBC counts were reduced (P > 0.05) among BT and CAUT compared with CON piglets 30 min after tail docking. Cortisol concentrations were higher (P < 0.01) among BT compared with CON and CAUT piglets 60 min after tail docking. Cautery and BT-docked piglets spent more (P < 0.05) time posterior scooting compared with CON piglets between 0 and 15 min, and 31 and 45 min after tail docking. Piglets tail docked using CAUT and BT tended to spend more (P < 0.07) time sitting than CON piglets between 0 and 15 min post tail docking. Elevated blood cortisol can be reduced by the use of the CAUT rather than the BT method of tail docking. Although the tail docking-induced rise in cortisol was prevented by using CAUT, the behavioural response to BT and CAUT docking methods was similar.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)292-297
Number of pages6
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2008


  • Animal welfare
  • Behaviour
  • Cortisol
  • Pigs
  • Tail docking


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