Sunday, January 1, 2012

Pig Farming - Animal Welfare Is Paramount

Back in 1965 a Technical Committee was convened to report on animal welfare issues arising from intensive farming systems. The committee produced the Bramble Report, which defined the first 'animal rights', enshrined in 'Bramble's Five Freedoms': these stated that animals should have the freedom to "stand up, lie down, turn around, groom themselves and stretch their limbs". Out of this committee came the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Committee, from which in 1979 the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) was formed by the British Government. FAWC have developed the so-called 'five freedoms', on which the proper welfare of farm animals from farm to abattoir is based. These 'freedoms', or 'animal welfare needs' now cover the treatment of domestic pets as well as farm animals.

There is a scientifically proven link between the welfare levels of an animal's upbringing and meat quality, also, obviously a poorly kept animal won't be as productive as a fit and healthy one, and will cost the producer money (now, there's surely a big incentive to get your animal's welfare right?!).

Let's look at the freedoms that an animal should enjoy under law - and should enjoy anyway if you want to produce good quality food from your farm.

Freedom from hunger and thirst - a proper diet, including fresh water. Animal nutrition is so well researched that there can be no excuse for feeding any animal other than with a diet with the right balance of nutrients for it's growth / productivity. My dog is gluten intolerant, and she is very active and also fussy - dog dieticians have come up with a range of solutions for her; similarly my pregnant sow needs a different diet from my lactating sow, and a 10 kilo pig needs a different balance of nutrients to a 100 kilo animal. Oh, and always check your drinkers are working, in the same way as you'll have made sure the dog's water bowl is kept topped up.
Freedom from discomfort - somewhere suitable to live. The animal needs an appropriate environment, including shelter and a comfortable resting area. For the pig farmer this means giving outdoor sows somewhere to shelter from the sunshine (they can get sunburn) and to wallow (having no sweat glands means that getting covered in mud is not only fun, but cooling). Pigs need somewhere comfortable to rest and sleep - plenty of fresh, clean, dry straw is ideal, whatever size of pig we are considering.
Freedom for pain, injury or disease - protection from, and treatment of, illness and injury. This can be achieved through prevention, rapid diagnosis and appropriate treatment - for the pig farmer this means two things: excellent stockmanship and a great vet. The former comes through experience and training, the latter is an essential part of your 'team'. Find a vet that knows pigs, have him/her on your unit four times a year to check your stock and their environment over. Well-designed accommodation and handling facilities will help minimise disease challenges and injuries.
Freedom to express normal behaviour or, 'the ability to express normal behaviour' as the 'welfare needs' defines it. For a pig this means being able to root around and explore their environment: difficult on a concrete base (unless there's a good quantity of straw), and impossible on slats. A pig needs sufficient space, proper facilities and the company of other pigs. The space requirements are laid down in Government regulations, and there is a requirement under law to provide pigs with some form of environmental enrichment - 'manipulable materials', such as cardboard cartons or softwood 'toys'.
Freedom from fear and distress - for any need to be housed with, or apart from, other animals. This ensures conditions and levels of care that avoid mental suffering. Pigs in particular have social needs and a relatively high level of intelligence. A strange pig introduced into a group will often be killed, or die of stress related conditions - a lone pig will get lonely

Andrew is a qualified teacher of English as a foreign language (TEFL), a farmer with twenty years agricultural experience, and worked for fifteen years in the global automotive industry.

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