Measuring Welfare: Balancing the Needs of Pigs, Producers and Public

Summarised by Jaydee Smith, Swine Production Systems Program Lead of OMAFRA, this paper was presented by John Deen at the Centralia Swine Research Update on 28 January 2009. The paper dicusses three main objectives that are likely to produce positive results: sow lameness, the slow growing pig and birth weight.
calendar icon 6 May 2009
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Animal agriculture faces issues that few or no other industries do, arising from the complexity of the value chain and all its participants, and from the responsibility of care to livestock that is unique to farming.

In attempting to find solutions to challenges faced, Dr Deen says there are traps to be found when following the natural tendency to simplify a problem and make it more tractable; for example: assuming that changing one thing leaves other things unchanged; assuming that all animals are the same; and assuming linear responses to changes or inputs.

While cautioning against looking for simple solutions, this should not prevent striving for innovations that will improve animal well-being or productivity. Once it is accepted that improved welfare is a necessary goal (among the public, caring is valued over competence by 4:1) the questions remain "What should I do?" and "Why should I do it?"

Economic reasons for maximising animal well-being can be demonstrated. Dr Deen noted that the welfare of animals is reflected in their productivity. Some animals in a population may not be adapting as well as most, leading to poor-doers. Finding the means to remove these or improve their condition can improve the profile of the population (removing the "tail" from the curve) and improve the performance overall.

To illustrate, Dr Deen presented the results of calculations of contribution to profit of throughput, costs of production, and revenue, based on the equation "Profit = #Kg (Revenue/kg - Costs/kg)".

Throughput is the greatest contributor (see graph). Anything that would negatively affect throughput, including animal welfare and its impact on productivity, dramatically affects profitability.

Per Cent Contribution to Profit, 2007

In his paper, Dr Deen discusses three objectives his team are pursuing that they believe can produce positive results: sow lameness, which can affect productivity; the slow-growing pig, which may indicate compromised welfare as well as affecting herd variability; and birth weight, which can be related to subsequent productivity.

In each case, interventions must be justified not just on the basis of economic returns but also to improve the welfare of animals and acceptance by consumers - what he calls "win-win-win objectives".

Further Reading

- You can view other papers presented at the Centralia Swine Research Update 2009 by clicking here.

May 2009
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