The tail of pigs has been suggested as a welfare indicator as it can provide insight into a pig's behavioural and emotional states. Tail posture and motion have so far mainly been studied in the context of tail biting behaviour. The aim of this study was to investigate the relationship between pigs’ natural behaviour and their tail posture and tail motion. This was studied in a free-range farm in which tail biting is absent. In total 214 pigs of different age categories were observed individually (sows, gilts, boars, and 6-month old pigs) or by group (6-month and 1-year old pigs) for their tail posture, tail motion and behaviour, using live observations and videos obtained by drone. Results showed that a fully curled tail occurred most during locomotion (P < 0.001); and an actively hanging tail occurred more during foraging (P < 0.001), excavation (P = 0.006), feeding (P = 0.017), receipt of agonistic behaviour (P = 0.036), and non-agonistic social interactions (P = 0.046). A fully curled tail (P < 0.001) and a half curled tail (P < 0.005) occurred least in the group of sows. Tail motion was infrequent (6.7% of observations), and involved mainly loosely wagging, which occurred more during locomotion (P = 0.006) and non-agonistic social interactions (P = 0.006). A higher temperature-humidity index increased the probability of half curled tails (P < 0.001) and loose wagging (P < 0.001), while reducing the probability of active (P < 0.001) and passive hanging tails (P = 0.013). These results provide insight into tail posture and tail motion in pigs under semi-natural conditions, showing especially that hanging tails are not primarily associated with tail biting, and that the use of tail postures for welfare assessment should be in consideration with the context in which the animals are kept.
- Pig behaviour
- Tail movement