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.
The EU Commission banned all interventions on animals that are not curative, that is, necessary for the treatment of a disease, as early as 2008. However, the Member States did not take this ban very seriously so far. Last year, the EU Commission conducted audits in various countries and found that the measures adopted in Member States—including Germany—were insufficient. The Commission is now calling on the individual states to rectify this.
The German Federal Conference of Agriculture Ministers has taken this as an opportunity to develop measures and launched an action plan that would permit dispensing with docking in the long term. The action plan provides for the individual optimisation of animal production conditions and management on farms. This should gradually dispense with tail docking. North Rhine-Westphalia is the first federal state where the action plan will enter into force. As from 1 July 2019, all pig farms that persist in keeping docked pigs must submit a declaration justifying the indispensability of docking.
This declaration shall include a risk analysis documenting the optimisation measures adopted to avoid tail biting and other injuries. One major factor however needs to be considered further: feeding. For animal welfare starts with feed.
Studies have shown that feeding can minimise animals’ stress level and consequently stress-related behavioural disorders, one of the main reasons for tail biting. This way, important adjustments can be made early on.