THE pig industry’s first Real Welfare report published today (Thursday March 2) has been produced using of three years worth of data generated by the AHDB Pork Real Welfare scheme. Angela Calvert reports.
USING data collected by the Real Welfare scheme from 2013-2016 the Real Welfare report aims to provide a credible, benchmarked level of pig welfare at both an industry and individual farm level.
The Real Welfare scheme was developed in response to the pig industry’s need for strong, science-based evidence to demonstrate its husbandry standards to retailers, animal welfare lobby groups, policy makers and consumers.
Since the start of the scheme more 5.5 million pigs have been individually assessed which represents 17.5 per cent of pigs slaughtered in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Mick Sloyan, AHDB Pork Strategy director says: “We now have the biggest database of this kind in the world. No other country has made such a commitment to pig welfare. Its power is in the farmer-vet partnership approach and the fact that the industry voluntarily chose to do this.
“Producers benefit because it gives them objective data which enables them work constructively with their vet to focus on areas of improvement. It also enables to them benchmark their businesses against other similar farms.
“From an AHDB and industry perspective the results are very encouraging. The report on data to date is a solid benchmark as to where we are now as an industry and highlights key issues and areas where there is room for improvement. It is an evidence base that the industry can work from and measure positive change in the future with the plan being to produce a report annually.”
The Real Welfare scheme gathers standardised information from pig farms on a mix of ‘iceberg indicators’ of health and welfare to provide an evidence based approach to assess welfare from an animal’s perspective.
It involves on-farm assessments using a set of five objective and repeatable measures which are known as ‘welfare outcomes. They are animal-based, meaning that they are obtained from the animals themselves, rather than from their environment.
The measures are:
Of those pigs not already in hospital pens seven out of 10,000 pigs needed hospitalisation. On more than 75 per cent of farms no pigs needed hospitalisation.
The percentage of pigs that benefited from being in a hospital pen, but were not already, was significantly lower every year.
On average 18 out of 10,000 non-hospitalised pigs were lame. On more than 75 per cent of farms there were no non-hospitalised lame pigs. The percentage of lame pigs that were not already in a hospital pen was significantly lower every year.
On average, 14 out of 10,000 pigs had severe tail damage; 134 out of 10,000 had visible tail damage; At least 24 per cent of pigs had undocked tails and 70 per cent of pigs had their tails docked. The remaining 6 per cent were kept in pens with mixed tail lengths
More than 75 per cent of farms had no pigs with severe tail damage and more than 50 per cent of farms had no pigs with visible mild tail damage.
There was an increase in the percentage of assessed pigs with severe tail damage in 2014 and 2015, although there is some evidence that this increase was not sustained in 2016.
Pig farmers evidently deal with pigs with tail damage well. Although absolute levels are relatively low, the trends in the annual figures highlight that addressing tail damage must remain a priority for the industry.
On average, 26 out of 10,000 pigs had severe body marks and 11 out of 100 pigs had mild body marks.
More than 75 per cent of farms had no pigs with severe body marks and 50 per cent of farms had fewer than 7 out of 100 pigs with mild body marks.
Following an increase in the percentage of non-hospitalised pigs with severe body marks in 2014, data from 2015 and 2016 shows a significant decrease. The overall low levels of severe body marks indicate that the physical and social environment is in order and farmers deal with pigs with severe body marks well.
On average 62 per cent of pigs had access to substrate, most of which was straw, 32 per cent of pigs had access to objects and 4 per cent of pigs had access to both substrate and objects.
Over time, the enrichment ratios increased, meaning that the provided enrichment was perceived as becoming more attractive in the years after 2013.
Although figures are going up all the time there is scope for improvement. Provision of effective environmental enrichment remains important for the industry and it is noteworthy that both provision of substrate and object enrichment has increased significantly since 2013.
To see a video of Mick Sloyan, AHDB Pork strategy director talking about the report, OR for a full copy of the report go to AHDB pork