Piglets suckling. They will compete for and defend the best teats.
Soon after they are born, the teeth of piglets are often clipped.
The purpose of teeth clipping is to reduce injuries caused by piglets to each other and to their mother as they fight for the best teats.
Why are piglets born with sharp incisor teeth?
Sows don’t always have enough milk to feed all their piglets, especially if they have large litters. To ensure that at least some of the piglets survive, the strongest get preferential treatment.
The teats nearest the front of her body get the most milk. The teats towards the back of the body get progressively less.
Piglets are born with sharp incisor teeth to fight for the best teats. Once a piglet has established ownership of a teat, he or she will vigorously defend it.
Fighting for teats is most severe if the sow does not have enough milk for all her piglets. This can happen if the sow has more piglets than she can look after or if she is in poor body condition, or if for some reason she eats less food.
Tooth clipping is likely to be very painful. The damage caused to the teeth is also likely to make them prone to infection.
Watching this clip may be distressing
Can injuries be reduced without teeth-clipping?
Breeding sows to produce smaller litters which they can feed properly can reduce injuries caused by fighting for teats. This can also reduce the number of piglets that will starve, provided the sow is properly fed.
Some breeds of sow have higher levels of fat and this can help them to maintain high levels of milk.
Keeping the sow in high welfare farrowing systems may also help. Research in Denmark found that sows in free-farrowing systems ate more food than those kept in crates and it was suggested that they were probably producing more milk. Piglets in the free-farrowing systems grew better and were heavier at weaning than those in crates.
This may explain why there are fewer injuries to the sow’s teats and piglets in systems with plenty of space and enrichment such as straw. European Union rules insist that environment and stocking density should be dealt with before resorting to teeth clipping.