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Bigger Not Necessarily Bad for Pig Welfare

28 May 2014, at 11:38am

DENMARK – The trend for larger pig farms across Europe is not necessarily accompanied by decreased animal welfare standards, an animal science conference has been told, reports Michael Priestley.

Providing competent staff deliver the right management for stock needs, herd welfare should not suffer, research undertaken at the University of Copenhagen has found.

The study found that features inherent to larger pig farms, such as more specialised roles for staff, meant that high welfare standards could be maintained.

In addition, tighter biosecurity, greater levels of professionalism and synchronised cleaning periods across the farm were listed by project leader Dr Kristian Knage-Rasmussen as crucial factors.

“Disease control measures area good on large farms, with bigger businesses able to invest more money,” he told the British Society of Animal Science in Nottingham last month.

“Additionally larger farms can allocate cleaning times to stages of production, isolating threat from different ages of pigs.”

Using European Union animal welfare standards, the team measured herd welfare through an index, using scores for behavioural displays, injuries and disease records.

Each farm survey included a producer interview which discussed handling and housing.

Dr Knage-Rasmussen said the welfare score was not perfect, noting the failure to consider castration in the calculation.

The study failed to analyse sow feeding and medicinal administration, he added.

Despite this, he believes the study could be used to inform consumer perception about large-scale pig farms.

He added: “Increasing herd size is viewed by many consumers as a compromise to animal welfare. It appears that farm size is not important but management is key.”

For a more accurate assessment, he said other criteria could be included in further research.

He said: “A good step in the future would be to compare organic and outdoor production with indoor welfare, factoring in herd size.”

The study took welfare data from 64 sow herds and 37 slaughter herds from within Denmark. Farms were visited once during 2011 and 2012.

Sow herd size varied from 50 to 2,500 (average: 494) and slaughter herd varied from 650 to 34,094 pigs (average: 7,824).

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