Real Welfare

The pork sector council has acted on clear messages from levy payers to amplify our work on marketing, exports and reputation (including educating younger consumers). This will be underpinned by a foundation of aligned pre-farmgate work.

Back to Husbandry and welfare of pigs

Prioritising this work, combined with a reduction in total income, means that some work must be reduced or stopped.

Work to improve animal health and welfare is important, not only for animals but for the profitability of the industry and to assure consumers of high welfare standards.

While much was retained following this review, the council has directed AHDB to discontinue funding the Pig Health Scheme and Real Welfare programmes.

As a result, Red Tractor suspended standard AH.11, which requires Real Welfare assessments to be carried out on all units rearing pigs greater than 50 kg, from 1 April 2023.

Assessors have been instructed not to raise non-conformances against this standard and vets are no longer obliged to carry out Real Welfare assessments or report this data.

Historical data will be stored securely by AHDB, however, for data security reasons, AHDB is required to close down access to the Real Welfare database and producer reports.

If you have had Real Welfare outcomes assessed on your finisher unit(s), you can continue to access and download your reports through Pig Hub until 19 May 2023.

If you have any questions or concerns, email: real.welfare@ahdb.org.uk

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Read the Pork sector plan 2022–2027


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 will Real Welfare benefit your farm?

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 (greater 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.

Real Welfare for Red Tractor – Measures for on-farm assessment

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.

Real Welfare information for vets

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.

Real Welfare baseline report 2013–2016

Real Welfare update report 2013–2017

Real Welfare update report 2018–2020

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