Blog: Welfare outcomes set us apart from other countries

Wednesday, 23 March 2022

Good animal health and welfare are vital for each and every animal on our farms and, as a vet, improving animal health and welfare is my passion. But how do we prove that we have good health and welfare in our animals?

As an industry we are increasingly being asked to demonstrate this and it doesn’t do to just say that we do.

Animal health is slightly easier to measure than animal welfare – how many animals have a particular disease or how much medicine has been used to treat diseases can be recorded. But for welfare, the easier measurements are the inputs into a system – for example the stocking density or how much trough space each animal has to feed from. Yet they don’t measure the welfare for the pig itself. Do those inputs result in better welfare, for example, less disease, less lameness or fewer injuries?

The Real Welfare scheme records and reports on welfare outcomes – what the pig itself experiences. It sets us apart from other countries where only inputs are reported.

Image of staff member Mandy Nevel

Mandy Nevel

Head of Animal Health and Welfare

See full bio

Changes to management should be able to demonstrate a real improvement in health or welfare at the animal level itself.  It is only through good recording on farm or in the abattoir that we will be able to do that. 

During lockdown, we were unable to record health conditions in the abattoir and I am delighted that health assessments are now back up and running. Look out for new assessments via our website and weekly e-newsletter.

In future, we will be making sure that we join up data sets to maximise the learnings we get not just from individual data sets but getting more information when we combine them. For example, pneumonia is both a health and welfare issue for our pigs as well as causing production inefficiency at farm and processor levels; it slows growth and can result in increased trimming of the carcase, slowing down the lines. But it also results in more antibiotics being used. 

Joining up the data we collect on health, welfare and the use of antibiotics can be more powerful in terms of understanding the impacts of the disease than looking at those measures in isolation. But disease also impacts on the environment. Indeed, there is increasing awareness that animal health is one of the most significant factors influencing the environmental impact of livestock production systems.  

Our Shape the Future campaign asks levy payers to register to vote (similar to before a political election) by 31 March. Then in April, we will ask levy payers to vote on what is important to them. Animal health and welfare will be part of that. For me it’s important not only for the health and welfare of the animals, but also for the environment and promoting the reputation of our industry.