The Real Welfare scheme ensures the on-farm welfare of pigs using a set of welfare outcome measures. It is a requirement of Red Tractor and Quality Standard Meat farm assurance schemes.
What is Real Welfare?
Real Welfare involves on-farm assessment of pig welfare using a set of five objective and repeatable measures.
These measures are known as ‘welfare outcomes’, which are animal-based, meaning that they are obtained from the animals themselves, rather than from their environment.
Real Welfare was developed in response to the pig industry’s need for strong, science-based evidence to demonstrate its husbandry standards to retailers, animal welfare lobby groups, policymakers and consumers.
Following extensive work by researchers at the University of Bristol, University of Newcastle and the RSPCA, the Real Welfare scheme was launched as a requirement of Red Tractor Farm Assurance on 1 April 2013, and QMS Pigs Farm Assurance since August 2016.
How are welfare outcome assessments used?
Welfare outcome assessments are used to:
- Assess the level of welfare achieved for an individual animal, a pen of animals, a farm building or a farm/unit
- Identify and monitor welfare problems and solutions on a farm
- Strengthen farm management through assessment, feedback from vets and benchmarking
- Provide more reliable and direct assurance of animal welfare, including to retailers and consumers
What are the welfare outcome measures?
Sample pens of finisher pigs (less than 50 kg) are routinely assessed for the following:
- Pigs that would benefit from removal to hospital pen (hospital pigs)
- Lame pigs
- Pigs with tail damage
- Pigs with body marks
- Environmental enrichment provision and use (n.b. this measure is optional)
Real Welfare is also used to collect information on other variables, such as feeding practices, pen variables and whether tails are docked or undocked.
Who carries out the assessments?
Real Welfare assessments are carried out by vets who are members of the Pig Veterinary Society.
These vets have to undergo regular online and practical training. The assessments are usually carried out as part of the quarterly veterinary visits and are paid for by the producer.
Since the vet knows the unit, they can immediately give advice, where and when needed. Any agreed course of action is recorded in the farm’s veterinary health plan and becomes auditable by the Red Tractor auditors.
How many pigs are assessed?
Real Welfare assessments take place 2–4 times a year, depending on how the farm operates.
A sample of pigs from a range of pens is assessed each visit. The total number assessed per year depends on how many finisher places a farm has.
The vet carrying out the assessment will be trained in how to calculate the appropriate sampling numbers.
Some measures require a scan assessment of all pigs in a sample pen, while other measures are recorded from only a sample of individual pigs.
How is the data used?
Real Welfare outcomes are reported back to the producers as a rolling total, combining all assessments from the previous 365 days.
This means Real Welfare reports on the general welfare status and management of finisher pigs on farm, and any variation between batches (through disease or extreme weather, for instance) is evened out.
Such fluctuations are inevitable and do not necessarily reflect the normal situation on that farm.
Assessment outcomes are discussed between the vet and farmer, so opportunities for improvement can be identified and acted upon, if needed.
Real Welfare also allows farmers to benchmark their welfare outcomes against other farms, as well as against their peers.
Red Tractor, QMS and AHDB do not have access to individual farm data. We manage the anonymised data set amalgamated across all units, which enables us to monitor welfare outcomes across the whole industry.
Real Welfare reports
The Real Welfare database is unique and the biggest of its kind anywhere in the world.
The data from the first years of the Real Welfare scheme have been analysed by statisticians and the results have now been published in a number of reports summarising the findings and scientific papers, which give a more in-depth investigation and background of the Real Welfare data.