Be it poultry, beef, pork, fish or shellfish, one of the major challenges of modern animal husbandry across the globe is the sustainable, efficient improvement of animal welfare. This term refers to a number of factors that indicate improvement in animal welfare, including barn climate, behaviour, health and hygiene. These are broadly based on the Five Freedoms developed by the UK Farm Animal Welfare Council: 1. Freedom from hunger and thirst; 2. Freedom from discomfort; 3. Freedom from pain, injury and disease; 4. Freedom to express normal behaviour; 5. Freedom from fear and distress. All these factors are closely related to a very important aspect of animal husbandry: feeding.
Feed additives can achieve a lot
Needs-based feeding is one of the main prerequisites for animal-friendly husbandry and healthy animals. Feed additives in particular can have a positive impact on critical animal welfare indicators. It is precisely here that plant-based feed additives, specially developed to sustainably improve animal welfare and support the implementation of various animal welfare measures, can help. Just like the tailor-made products of industry pioneer Dr Eckel Animal Nutrition.
In this way, producers can already target the well-being and health of the animals at the feeding stage. Phytogenic additives for instance support the animal’s own immune system or gastrointestinal health. This is not only beneficial to food intake, it also improves faeces consistency and consequently litter quality, barn hygiene and footpad health. Other plant extracts have a calming effect on stressed animals, reducing stress-related behaviour such as tail biting and feather pecking. Essential oils promote lung function. Ultimately, this can reduce the use of medication, particularly antibiotics. Feed additives make animals stronger, help increase their vitality and enhance their well-being. This enables them to cope better with the daily challenges of life.
Animal welfare pays off—for all
Such product solutions demonstrate that an animal-friendly, sustainable and profitable production is possible. Feed manufacturers acquire high-quality additives that meet the special requirements of modern feeding strategies. This enables them to provide their customers with effective solutions for improving animal welfare. Producers, breeders and farmers benefit from their animals’ stronger general condition and better performance. The result: increased efficiency and sustainability. And the animals themselves present fewer stress-related symptoms, fewer inflammations, a better immune system, and improvement in their well-being. That is how animal welfare starts with the feed.
Since June 2022, the medicinal use of zinc oxide has been banned in the EU. What is the impact on animal nutrition, especially on health and welfare of piglets? For decades and especially since the world-wide ban of antibiotics growth promoters had begun, zinc oxide at pharmacological dosages has been widely in use to effectively control diarrhoea in post-weaning piglets. But much like AGP, zinc oxide is a double-edged sword. It promotes the selection of antimicrobial resistant pathogens like E. coli in the intestine and is a co-factor in the development of resistance in Gram positive bacteria. Since there is also concern about possible contamination of the environment, the use in therapeutic dosages has been under scrutiny in several countries, not only in the EU. The decision to ban zinc oxide from piglet feed has long been taken, yet the search for effective alternative control measures is still ongoing. With the ban finally in place, concerns are growing that post-weaning diarrhoea in piglets will increase.
The truth is that there is no miracle drug to simply replace medicinal zinc oxide in the diets of weaning pigs. However, this does not mean that there is no alternative. In fact, it may even turn out to be a better solution for all concerned in the end. Since nutrition plays a key role in keeping the piglets healthy, the early feed intake of piglets is of utmost importance..
Organic acids have long been established as one of the most successful groups of feed additives in piglet nutrition. Since they are able to reduce gastric pH and lower the acid binding capacity of the feed, they support a proper protein digestion in young animals, have a direct antimicrobial effect, reduce coliform bacteria in the intestine and lower the incidence of diarrhoea. Therefore, it makes sense not only from an economic point of view to use effective feed acidifiers to prevent diarrhoea.
The second option looks even more promising on the whole: Phytogenic formulations offer very promising solutions for the challenges faced in modern animal production. For instance, they contain plant metabolites to improve health and performance of weaned piglets. Modes of action include alleviating stress-related problems, reducing inflammation, supporting the immune system and improving feed intake.
Post-weaning diarrhoea still is one of the major welfare concerns in pig production. Antibiotics and pharmacological levels of zinc oxide used to be the most effective way to prevent PWD. There is a chance that the ban of pharmacological zinc oxide will lead to an increase in antibiotic use for necessary treatment of nursery pigs. However, one thing is certain: We should use all known tools in the management box to optimise pre- and post-weaning management. This is our best option to mitigate the negative impact on health and welfare of young piglets and to improve overall profitability of the operation in a sustainable way.
There are numerous methods that can be applied in piglet rearing to improve animal welfare. We have selected the three measures which are particularly effective and relevant in practice.
1. Pen design
A pen design that provides piglets with an appealing environment is important, as is the location of a designated resting area. It is all about a well-planned pen: the piglets know exactly where they can rest or sleep, leave their excrement, eat or indulge in their normal behaviour. The resting area should be warmer and darker, while the exercise area should be equipped with sufficient manipulable material.
2. Avoiding non-curative interventions
Interventions such as castration, teeth clipping or grinding and tail docking are highly controversial issues and nowadays less and less tolerated by the public in many parts of the world. Not only will castration without anaesthetic no longer be acceptable in the future, but other interventions will also be critically examined. Other, more animal-friendly solutions will have to be found. In order to meet the expectations of politics, the retail sector and society and at the same time to be able to produce successfully and profitably, optimised feeding is one of the most important tools for farmers and producers.
3. Reducing stress
Here, experts and producers agree: stress is one of the most important factors for the occurrence of behavioural disorders such as tail biting. Stress due to stocking density, stable climate or health problems usually leads to reduced performance. In addition to long-term, fundamental changes in the production system (premises, management, ventilation and herd size), there are other measures available to pig producers. A feeding regime that is geared for animal welfare and health and includes the right feed additives can effectively counteract stress and present a major opportunity to support and strengthen the animals against daily stressors such as disease and environmental factors. Phytogenic, or plant-based, additives are particularly applicable: this product class can strengthen the immune system and combat pathogens while producing a calming effect on animals. A case in point is Dr. Eckel’s plant-based additive MagPhyt, which has been scientifically proven to reduce tail biting due to its calming effect.
Recent incidents surrounding the Covid 19 pandemic have shown very clearly that the solution to future long-term success in animal production lies in sustainability. Clear and decisive action is now required to restore consumer confidence confidence and strengthen businesses—for the benefit of animals, society and responsible producers.
Thousands of dairy cows produce their white gold on a daily basis. This is no mean feat, but one that only healthy, stable cows can perform in the long term. This is why, particularly in the case of dairy cows, better animal welfare equals better health, which in turn equals better performance. Here are the most important animal welfare parameters for dairy cows.
Udder health. Udder disease can result in massive economic loss and insurmountable costs. In order to prevent disease, farmers must be able to detect any deterioration in their herd’s health quickly. In most cases, we are only aware of the direct costs of veterinary treatment and medication. Additional costs arise from unusable milk and are incurred as a result of treatment, management, separate milking, increased restocking and problems in subsequent lactation. A major indicator for assessing udder health is the somatic cell content of the milk. Many risk factors, including poor barn hygiene, increase the somatic cell count. However, feed additives can help reduce the somatic cell content.
Cow comfort. Just as in the case of athletes, it is important that dairy cows avoid joint injuries, such as those of the hock and the knee, and broken ribs. More comfort, for example through outdoor lying areas in the exercise pen, ensures that the animals can lie down and rise with greater ease and without hindrance, and assume their natural lying position without incurring injury. In addition, animals should be provided with easily accessible resting, feeding, drinking and exercise areas. This also prevents soiling and skin injuries.
Lameness. This is often caused by a variety of hoof injuries or diseases, and has a significant impact on the animals’ natural behaviour and welfare. In any case, it is very painful and frequently one of the main causes of premature death. Detecting it early on and taking appropriate preventive measures increase the chances of recovery.
Social behaviour. Cows are herd animals that have an established hierarchy. They have a need for physical and social contact, which they normally express through mutual grooming. Additionally, they need a well-planned barn with exercise and resting areas, enough space and tranquillity to express their social behaviour.
Metabolism. The many breeding successes over the last few decades have resulted in significant increases in performance, but also in major challenges. A case in point is an increase in the risk of metabolic diseases such as ketosis and ruminal acidosis due to the different needs. In addition to feed management, this is precisely where the right feed additives can make a great difference.
Healthy calves are the basis for the best possible milk yield: they secure the livestock’s future and consequently that of the farm. Good management and animal-friendly farming practices ensure that these calves grow into dairy cows that perform well and have a long lifespan. Protecting calves as much as possible against avoidable diseases and inflammations is particularly important. Inappropriate feeding and farming practices may reduce their resistance and increase the risk of disease. Their first few hours of life are decisive: since calves are born with an underdeveloped immune system, they need a sufficient quantity of valuable colostrum, which boosts their immune system, providing them with the antibodies they need to survive in their specific barn environment.
Calves are also exposed to numerous external factors, including stressors such as poor farming conditions, environmental influences and high microbial load. These could produce symptoms such as diarrhoea, infections and respiratory diseases, which often occur together and are due to the weak immune system of the young calf. All these factors stress the calf immensely and permanently hinder both its well-being and performance. Disease often results in developmental disorders and impairments, and requires extra work and additional costs. Therefore, prevention is better than cure: this involves providing calves with the best possible care and containing possible stressors so that the future dairy cows can reach their full genetic potential.
Feeding can also actively contribute to this, effectively improving animal welfare from the inside out. Plant feed additives can reduce inflammatory reactions in calves, meaning that the energy acquired from the feed is not wasted on inflammatory reactions but made completely available for growth. This simultaneously increases the calves’ resistance and well-being. A recent feeding test showed how a Dr. Eckel feed additive containing flavonoids demonstrably promotes calves’ well-being. You can learn more about this test here.
World Animal Protection (WAP) publishes international animal welfare ranking based on its assessment of animal welfare standards in 50 countries. Sweden and Austria came in first.
World Animal Protection, with headquarters in London, has been working to improve animal welfare for more than 30 years. The NGO has assessed the animal welfare policies and legislation of a total of 50 countries worldwide and ranked them from A (the highest score) to G in its Animal Protection Index (API). The indicators considered include general awareness of animal welfare, national legislation and political support for animal welfare standards concerning pets, animals used in farming and animals used in research. According to the API, Sweden, Great Britain and Austria achieved the highest scores. The ‘B’ grade they were awarded shows that animal welfare in these countries is at a very high level but there is still room for improvement in certain areas. However, countries such as Morocco, Iran, Algeria and Belarus are still missing an essential basic legal framework for animal welfare or at least formal recognition of animal welfare in their existing legislation.
Germany, which only obtained a mediocre ‘C’ grade overall and a ‘D’ for its efforts in protecting animals used in farming, is on a par with France, Poland, Spain and Italy. This shows that there is still much that Germany and the other European countries can do. Although the economic, ecological and ethical importance of animal welfare has received increasing recognition in recent years, many industry stakeholders still lack direction when it comes to applying concrete measures. A useful rule of thumb is to start early and use all the available resources. This is why Dr. Eckel has long been focusing on measures to improve animal welfare, starting with feeding. The right feed additives can be a significant contribution to this.
Read more about the API and the results obtained by other countries here: https://api.worldanimalprotection.org.
A new livestock strategy should help farmers develop farm structures and prepare themselves adequately for the future. The North Rhine-Westphalian (NRW) Ministry of Agriculture explained the implications of such a strategy for pig farming at a press conference at the end of January. According to Agriculture Minister Ursula Heinen-Esser, pig farming cannot carry on without implementing radical change.
Indeed, the minister has set herself the goal of finding a balance between the increasing requirements of animal welfare, environmental protection, building regulations, the economy, social issues and social acceptance. The new livestock strategy should help farmers develop successful structural changes early on. The development of livestock production will be as comprehensive as possible, and will include possible changes in the existing farm and marketing structures. The ‘barn of the future’ is a cornerstone of this livestock strategy.
Together with the NRW Chamber of Agriculture, the Ministry of Agriculture is currently building new barn systems for pig farming. Two fattening barns at Haus Düsse, an experimental farm of the Chamber of Agriculture in Bad Sassendorf, are planned. These should meet the level-two and -three requirements of the state animal welfare label, and include a completely new outdoor run concept with green, climate-controlled areas and pig toilet. These barn systems will serve as a model for future building projects. The ‘barn of the future’ is to be financed entirely by state funds. The new barns should be ready by 2022.
Another issue the livestock strategy aims to promote is dispensing with tail docking in piglets. It plans to achieve this by improving pig production conditions to such an extent that keeping undocked pigs becomes the norm. Additionally, even more effort should be put into prophylactic measures that address the causes of disease, to further reduce the use of medication in pig farming.
We welcome the emphasis the livestock strategy places on recent developments in feed management and emission reduction methods. It shows that policymakers have now also understood that optimised feeding is the first step to improving sustainability and animal welfare. Let’s do it!
No less than the future of the industry featured in this year’s trade conference. Sustainable, profitable and animal-welfare oriented: these are the guiding principles for tomorrow’s food production. But which is the path that will lead to success? What are the challenges that need to be overcome? And how can growers, producers, processors and retailers be economically viable while fulfilling all the requirements for animal welfare, the climate, the environment and resources? Speakers and participants addressed these major issues in talks and panel discussions.
Prof. Johanna Fink-Gremmels, Chair of Veterinary Pharmacology and Toxicology at Utrecht University, made the role of nutrition in animal health and welfare particularly clear in her talk, stating that, besides contributing significantly to stable health, proper nutrition is also a key factor for better performance, lower medical costs and consequently better returns. Dutch company New Generation Nutrition is also all about nutrition. In her talk, CEO Marian Peters clearly demonstrated how important insects could be to nutrition, both animal and human, in the future.
Dr Gereon Schulze Althoff, Head of Quality Management and Veterinary Services at Tönnies, provided exciting insights into the role of producers, in particular the responsibility and potential of the various stakeholders in the value chain. A visionary presentation by Dr Francesca Blasco, Vice President Product & Innovation, outlined how to achieve profitable and animal-friendly production. The conference culminated in a panel discussion, including the speakers and audience, on how the industry can find a balance between animal welfare and profitability.
“It was a great mix of high-calibre expert talks, inspiring debates and plenty of opportunity for discussions with international industry peers,” said Bernhard große Austing from Austing Mischfutterwerk GmbH & Co. KG, adding: “Animal welfare is no trivial matter. Rather, as amply demonstrated at this conference, it is a necessity. Only healthy animals can provide healthy food. Because ultimately, this is what the consumer wants and what our world needs in order to ensure sufficient food supplies in the future.”
At least this is what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) experts say in the Special Report on Climate Change and Land they presented in Geneva in August. The IPCC researchers describe the dramatic effects of climate change and paint a dismal picture of the future.
More than 100 scientists from all over the world worked on the 1,200-page report, which states that agriculture, animal production and deforestation are among the main causes of climate change. According to the report, an estimated 23% of man-made greenhouse gas emissions derive from agriculture, forestry and other land use (AFOLU). Among other things, the authors of the report call for a drastic reduction in meat consumption and a change in eating habits. Furthermore, they report that population growth and changes in food consumption have led to unprecedented water consumption and that usable soils are being lost due to overuse and water scarcity.
According to the experts, climate change is already impacting food security due to warming and extended periods of extreme weather. More droughts, heatwaves and extreme rainfall are occurring as a result of climate change. At the same time, 30% of all food produced is either lost even before it reaches the market or wasted. Consequently, the IPCC recommends a radical change in land use practices.
What is certain is that resources must be used more efficiently in agriculture. This is where feed additives come into play: they can actively reduce both feed spoilage due to mould toxins and moisture, and the use of medication. Thus, the right additives can help reduce the CO2 footprint and ensure good food quality, consequently contributing to food security and improved animal welfare. The agricultural industry may well be part of the problem, but it is also part of the solution. And feed additives can play a key role in this solution.
We all know that management, animal production conditions and animal health are all crucial to animal welfare. Nevertheless, a major component is yet to be included: optimal feeding. “Feeding is one of the major factors in improving animal welfare and health,” states Dr Bernhard Eckel, Vice President Sales. “Feed additives make animals stronger, help increase their vitality and enhance their well-being. This enables them to cope better with the daily challenges of life.” Phytogenic additives are the hidden champions of animal nutrition. They stimulate the animals’ immune system, making them more resistant to diseases and external environmental factors, while also affecting barn hygiene and climate.
Reduce stress—improve animal welfare
Animals are exposed to the most varied of environmental factors every day. A case in point is stocking density, which often increases the occurrence of behavioural disorders such as feather pecking and tail biting. The right feed additives could help prevent this, consequently improving many of the indicators of animal welfare. Tail biting and feather pecking are actually among the greatest challenges in animal production: they adversely affect the animals’ welfare, resulting in injury, necrosis and rejection, as well as public opinion of the agricultural and meat industries.
Here, feed additives can help reduce stress and combat its symptoms. They ultimately benefit meat quality too, because only vital and healthy animals are happy animals that show the best performance.
What is good for us is also good for animals
Humans are the best example. We too frequently experience stress at work and try to reduce it in a number of ways. We sometimes employ traditional remedies, such as essential oils. Tea is also thought to help, as is the occasional glass of wine or beer. We can also use the positive effects of these plant constituents in livestock production.
Improved animal welfare—greater possibilities
Improving animal welfare is not only beneficial to the animal and meat quality; it is also beneficial to the entire value chain. This is because improved animal welfare increases livestock efficiency, thus saving resources, increasing margins and profits, and enabling the development of new markets and access to new customers.
With its animal welfare initiative, Dr. Eckel supports all the stakeholders along the value chain by improving crucial animal welfare parameters—starting with feeding—thus fulfilling social expectations and promoting animal performance. The aim is to develop sustainable solutions that are suitable for animals, humans and the environment. A transition to improved animal welfare can only be achieved by implementing an adapted and optimal feeding strategy with the right additives. Dr. Eckel is the first company to develop feed additives to specifically promote animal welfare. It focuses both on producing feed additives that have a beneficial effect on animal welfare and meat quality, and on sustaining the various animal welfare parameters through feeding. Dr. Eckel has demonstrated the effectiveness of its additives in numerous scientific and practice-oriented trials, and has been awarded several renowned innovation prizes.
Feeding is the first link in the food chain. It is therefore the starting point for measures that help improve animal welfare.