Measuring animal welfare

Animal welfare is the current universal catchphrase, even in husbandry systems that are not publicly perceived to be directly related to animal welfare. The small, decisive developments often remain unnoticed in the full glare of public debate. Today, we would like to look beyond the headlines and show what has already changed for the better in the last few years and how agriculture and industry can jointly address animal welfare.

In addition to legal guidelines promoting animal welfare in husbandry, such as stocking density and area per animal, livestock owners have already established their own standards for the measurement of health and animal welfare. The obvious tangible metrics here include loss of animals, extent and type of drugs used, feed and water requirements, and body weight and uniformity. Slaughterhouses assess skin and skeletal changes, footpad quality and the occurrence of breast blisters in poultry such as broilers and turkeys to reach important conclusions on their condition, rearing and nutrition.

Metrics are one thing. It takes the decision to act to sustainably improve animal welfare. For example, changes to and inflammation of the footpad are directly related to the quality and dry matter content of litter. However, this does not only depend on the materials used and weather factors. A healthy gastrointestinal tract and good feed efficiency are also essential. Here too, innovative product developments have already proven useful. Trials have shown that phytogenic feed additives can promote intestinal health and thus contribute to improved feed efficiency, faeces consistency and litter quality. Subsequently, footpad health and the overall condition of the animals, among other things, improve significantly.

However, measurements and key indicators alone can never tell the whole story. Constant individual stock assessment is and remains a critical factor. How do the animals behave? How dirty are they? In what condition are their skin and plumage? Such observations and assessments require people with the necessary knowledge and expertise.

In future, in working together to improve animal welfare, we should make even greater use of all the variables available to us and their evaluation, while placing more emphasis than we did before on observing the animals. This would enable us to jointly respond and improve animal welfare and growth more rapidly.


Further reading and viewing:

DGS magazine (9/2018, 48/2017) for more information and the KTBL brochure ‘Tierschutzindikatoren: Leitfaden für die Praxis – Geflügel’ (2016), ‘Improve poultry welfare with outcome-based standards’ in: Poultry International 2.2018, WATTAgNet.comarticles/28377, on:

Dr Hadden Graham: ‘Understanding dietary fibre to help boost the digestion of animal feed’ (video, English, 11:50 mins)