The three most effective measures to improve piglet welfare

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.

Animal welfare in Germany mediocre

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:

Great new world for pigs

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!

Dispense with docking: how feeding can help

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. 


Read more: How feed additives can help to reduce both stress and tail-biting

Health index for pigs. Top or flop?

Last year, QS Qualität und Sicherheit GmbH (QS) introduced the animal health index for pigs. The partial indices have now been compiled for the second time. How does this help animal welfare?

The animal health index is mandatory for all pig farms affiliated with the QS scheme. It enables breeders to evaluate the findings for the animals they deliver and compare them with those of other farms. The index is intended to help farmers identify and remedy shortcomings in animal welfare at an early stage. So far, the index has had no effect on the price that breeders achieve for their animals.

Results of official ante- and post-mortem inspections are recorded in the abattoir’s IT system for the purpose of the index. QS then evaluates the findings in relation to the abattoir—overarching statewide or nationwide analysis is not yet possible. Indicators that are taken into account are the condition of the respiratory tract, organs and joints, as well as the integrity of the carcase.

Does the index have a future as a tool for improving animal welfare? Leading abattoirs observe that, with this index, QS is merely reproducing what they have long been practicing in their facilities. And the mere collection of data does not constitute a measure that actually improves animal welfare. However, animal welfare is a complex issue that needs to be addressed in a number of manners. Animal production conditions are a major factor, as are animal behaviour, hygiene and feeding. The more farmers know about the condition of their animals, the easier it is for them to introduce and successfully implement measures for improvement. Although the animal health index may well be just one tool among many, it is nevertheless a considerable step in the right direction.