Home About Browse Search

Groffen, Jordy, 2012. Tail posture and motion as a possible indicator of emotional state in pigs. Second cycle, A2E. Skara: SLU, Dept. of Animal Environment and Health



In the current study, the aim was to investigate whether tail posture and motion can be an indicator of the emotional state of pigs and if the tail posture of the pig is affected by social breeding value (SBV), coping style and/or housing. Emotional state can be defined in two dimensions: valence and arousal. Two batches of 96 finishing pigs were studied in a one generation selection experiment with a 2x2 set up and were housed in a barren or straw bedded pen. In each pen, 6 pigs (3 male, 3 female) were housed. A back-test was done to determine the coping style of the pigs with two categories; high resister and low resister pigs. When possible, each pen held 3 high resisters and 3 low resisters pigs. Furthermore, half of the pens contained pigs with low SBV and the other half contained high SBV pigs. Tail condition scores were determined weekly. A novel environment test (150 sec) with a small arena was performed at 3.5 weeks of age to test the fearfulness of the pigs. Behaviours and vocalisations were recorded together with the tail posture and motion. Four different tail posture and motion categories were recorded; curled tail, hanging tail, tail between legs and tail wagging. Furthermore, home pen observations were performed to link behaviours to a tail posture or motion.

The most performed tail posture in the novel environment test and the home pen observations was a hanging tail posture (60%), while curled tail was performed 30% of the time and tail between the legs and tail wagging occurred both 5% of the time. A curled tail was linked with active behaviour (high arousal), whilst a hanging tail was linked with inactive behaviour (low arousal). No effect of SBV or coping style was found in the novel environment test on the tail postures and motion. In the home pen observations, low SBV pigs showed more tail between the legs than high SBV pigs (P<0.05). High resisters kept their tail curled more often than low resisters (P<0.01). Also, high resister pigs with a low SBV showed a curled tail more often than the other treatment groups (P<0.05). Tail between the legs occurred more often in barren housed pigs than in enriched housed pigs (P<0.05), which could link this tail posture to a negative emotional state. Housing had an effect on the tail condition score; barren housed pigs without straw had more tail damage than enriched pigs (P<0.0001). Positive correlations were found between eating/drinking and a curled tail, social behaviour and tail between legs, and negative social behaviour and manipulation with a wagging tail (P<0.0001).

To conclude, a curled tail could be linked to a positive emotional state, with high arousal. A hanging tail may be linked to a neutral state, neither positive nor negative. Pigs with their tail between the legs may be associated with a negative emotional state and low to medium arousal. Tail wagging can be associated with a negative emotional state, with high arousal. However, conclusions should be made carefully, because still little is known about the link between emotional states and behaviour. Positive tests could be done to make the link between a positive emotional state and a certain tail posture more clear. Also, tests that elicit a more fearful response than the novel arena test could confirm results from the current study.

Main title:Tail posture and motion as a possible indicator of emotional state in pigs
Authors:Groffen, Jordy
Supervisor:Lidfors, Lena and Bolhuis, Liesbeth and Ursinus, Nanda
Examiner:Keeling, Linda
Series:Studentarbete / Sveriges lantbruksuniversitet, Institutionen för husdjurens miljö och hälsa
Volume/Sequential designation:393
Year of Publication:2012
Level and depth descriptor:Second cycle, A2E
Student's programme affiliation:None
Supervising department:(VH) > Dept. of Animal Environment and Health
Keywords:tail posture, emotional state, pigs, novel environment test, tail condition score
Permanent URL:
Subject. Use of subject categories until 2023-04-30.:Animal ecology
Animal structure
Animal physiology - Growth and development
Deposited On:21 Aug 2012 10:05
Metadata Last Modified:21 Aug 2012 10:05

Repository Staff Only: item control page


Downloads per year (since September 2012)

View more statistics