Main content area

A cross-sectional study for predicting tail biting risk in pig farms using classification and regression tree analysis

Scollo, Annalisa, Gottardo, Flaviana, Contiero, Barbara, Edwards, Sandra A.
Preventive veterinary medicine 2017 v.146 pp. 114-120
ammonia, climate, commercial farms, cross-sectional studies, disease prevention, farmers, herd health, livestock and meat industry, models, prediction, rearing, regression analysis, risk factors, stocking rate, swine, tail biting, veterinarians
Tail biting in pigs has been an identified behavioural, welfare and economic problem for decades, and requires appropriate but sometimes difficult on-farm interventions. The aim of the paper is to introduce the Classification and Regression Tree (CRT) methodologies to develop a tool for prevention of acute tail biting lesions in pigs on-farm. A sample of 60 commercial farms rearing heavy pigs were involved; an on-farm visit and an interview with the farmer collected data on general management, herd health, disease prevention, climate control, feeding and production traits. Results suggest a value for the CRT analysis in managing the risk factors behind tail biting on a farm-specific level, showing 86.7% sensitivity for the Classification Tree and a correlation of 0.7 between observed and predicted prevalence of tail biting obtained with the Regression Tree. CRT analysis showed five main variables (stocking density, ammonia levels, number of pigs per stockman, type of floor and timeliness in feed supply) as critical predictors of acute tail biting lesions, which demonstrate different importance in different farms subgroups. The model might have reliable and practical applications for the support and implementation of tail biting prevention interventions, especially in case of subgroups of pigs with higher risk, helping farmers and veterinarians to assess the risk in their own farm and to manage their predisposing variables in order to reduce acute tail biting lesions.