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.
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.
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!
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.
Coming soon: Next year, the Federal Minister of Agriculture has declared, will see the introduction of a national animal welfare label. Now, retailers have anticipated her. A common, industry-wide labelling system specifying the method of production was launched on 1 April. However, this did not bring about much change. Supermarket chains and discount supermarkets have merely agreed to use a common logo.
As early as 2018, Lidl introduced a labelling system specifying the method of production for poultry, beef and pork then known as »Haltungskompass« (method of production compass). The other supermarket chains gradually followed suit with identical systems but different names. Apparently, they have now agreed to use a joint system. The new retail label, which is simply called »Method of production«, consists of four tiers: 1. indoor livestock farming, 2. indoor livestock farming plus, 3. outdoor livestock farming and 4. Premium. While tier one comes up to the minimum regulatory standard, specifications for the premium tier are equivalent to those of the organic seal.
Does this new retail label indeed anticipate the planned governmental label for animal welfare? The Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) has already criticised the retailers’ actions. Minister Klöckner emphasised that a national animal welfare label will set far higher and more comprehensive requirements than the retailers’ method of production label. To be fair, this cannot be denied. After all, the retailers’ label is merely a classification system, whereby the different tiers reflect requirements of other existing labels. It is managed by the Gesellschaft zur Förderung des Tierwohls in der Nutztierhaltung mbh, the organisation that is also responsible for the Animal Welfare Initiative. They do not, however, have supervisors of their own to monitor compliance of the provisions.
Furthermore, it is still unsure how the different tiers will eventually be present in the supermarkets. If consumers only have a choice between tier 1 (regulatory standard, with no additional requirements for animal rearing) and tier 2 (specifications according to the Animal Welfare Initiative which are decidedly lower than those of the different organic seals or the German Animal Welfare Federation), there is not much of a chance for a purchase decision that could favour improvements of animal welfare.
Evidently, the method of production label must be taken at face value: It is no genuine animal welfare label. Although the method of production has an impact on animal welfare, various other factors are also involved. Feeding, especially the right feed additives, can also influence positively animal welfare.
The national animal welfare label will find its way into the refrigerated displays at the beginning of 2020. The questions will then be: Will there be more animal welfare awareness in supermarkets? Which label will consumers end up trusting more? It remains to be seen.
Farmers and veterinary surgeons must adapt to new regulations. On 25 October, the EU Parliament in Strasbourg approved more stringent measures aimed at further limiting the use of antibiotics in animal production. Consequently, fewer antibiotic-resistant bacteria should end up in food.
According to the new measures, no veterinary medicinal products may be used to improve breeding establishments’ performance or to compensate for poor husbandry. Additionally, the continued use of certain antibiotics—specifically, antibiotics of last resort—is to be limited to humans. Metaphylactic treatment (that is, the treatment of other animals although only one shows signs of infection) will only be permitted if a veterinary surgeon has sufficient grounds to recommend it. Furthermore, the legislation stipulates that imported food must comply with European standards—this also applies to imported animal feed. Therefore, foreign countries too may no longer use antibiotics to promote growth in livestock if the products are intended for the EU market. In addition, research into new antibiotics should be extended further. Following the formal approval of the heads of state and government, the member states have three years to implement the provisions. Thus, the regulation will come into effect throughout Europe by the end of 2021 at the latest.
Antibiotic resistance is one of the greatest threats to health worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) had warned of the development of resistance and its consequences as early as 2014. In Europe alone, 25,000 people die from the effects of antibiotic resistance annually. Hence, the use of antibiotics in animal production must be reduced both at a national and at an international level. It is high time that this happens. According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), more antibiotics are used on average in European livestock farming than in human medicine.
In 2015, the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL), the Federal Ministry of Health (BMG) and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) jointly launched the German Antibiotic Resistance Strategy (DART 2020), which incorporates all important measures aimed at reducing antibiotic resistance. Reducing antibiotics to prevent the development of resistance and improve animal welfare has also been duly incorporated into the United Nations’ global sustainability goals and WHO’s One Health approach.
Dr. Eckel welcomes the decision of the European Parliament. After all, since being established almost 25 years ago, the company has relied on alternative feed additives that enable antibiotic-free feeding in agriculture. The aim was and remains to minimise the use of medication through optimised feeding.
For the sake of clarity, it will be a long time yet before antibiotics are entirely dispensable. They will continue to be an important component in the treatment of sick animals. In the case of infection, animals deserve optimal and effective treatment. But we must use any available alternatives if we are to successfully avert the risk of further resistance.