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Health and Welfare of Organic Pigs in Europe Assessed with Animal-based Parameters

26 November 2013

Assessing the welfare of breeding and feeding pigs in several European countries, a multinational group identified a number of management and welfare indicators with potential for use in the assessment and improvement of organic herd health planning.

Organic pig farming aims at maintaining a high health and welfare state of the animals through appropriate housing, management and feeding.

A better understanding of health and welfare indicators should help to identify critical points and hence to improve health and welfare as well as performance of organic pigs, explain Sabine Dippel from Austria's University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences and her co-authors.

Their paper, published in the journal, Organic Agriculture, describes the health and welfare of organic pigs from 101 farms across six EU countries, using selected animal-based parameters from the Welfare Quality® protocol.

Parameters were collected in sows, suckling and weaned piglets on between three and 20 farms per country. Their assessment was trained before farm visits and inter-observer agreement determined after farm visits.

The most prevalent problems identified in sows were thinness (median farm prevalence 18.8 per cent; range, 0–81.0 per cent), injuries on the anterior part of the body (15.5 per cent; 0–66.7 per cent), injuries on hind part of body (7.9 per cent; 0–50 per cent), obesity (4.9 per cent; 0–50.0 per cent) and vulva lesions (3.5 per cent; 0–42.9 per cent).

In suckling piglets, the median prevalence in terms of groups affected per farm was zero per cent for all parameters except "more than 50 per cent dirty piglets in group", for which it was 10 per cent. Farm prevalence ranged from 0 to 100 per cent for "one or more lame piglets in group", presence of diarrhoea, and "more than 50 per cent dirty piglets in group".

In weaned piglets, the median prevalence in terms of groups affected per farm was zero per cent with a range of 0 to 100 per cent for all parameters.

Based on the collected data, body condition, skin and vulva lesions in sows as well as lameness, diarrhoea and respiratory problems in piglets could be used as management and welfare indicators, with good potential for enhancement through farm improvement schemes like herd health planning.

Dippel and co-authors suggested that some definitions could be improved, especially lameness, diarrhoea and respiratory problems in piglets.


Dippel S., C. Leeb, D. Bochicchio, M. Bonde, K. Dietze, S. Gunnarsson, K. Lindgren, A. Sundrum, S. Wiberg, C. Winckler and A. Prunier. 2013. Health and welfare of organic pigs in Europe assessed with animal-based parameters. Organic Agriculture. May 2013.

Further Reading

You can view the full report (fee payable) by clicking here.

November 2013

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