What is the Value of Real Welfare?

UK pig specialist veterinarian, Jake Waddilove, offers his views on Real Welfare assessment on pig farms. Overall, he is supporter of the scheme although he agrees, with others, that fine-tuning is needed on the assessment of environmental enrichment, recording minor tail lesions and body marks and sampling protocols.
calendar icon 11 October 2013
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Jake Wadilove assesses the welfare of outdoor-reared pigs

Vet Jake Waddilove has been carrying out Real Welfare assessments for some time and is generally a supporter of their value.

His comments were made in the middle of a large field of some 5,000 finisher pigs in East Anglia where he was conducting a Real Welfare Assessment.

“I was pleasantly surprised that it is easier than I thought to do the assessment on outdoor units. It can be pleasant walking round a field doing an assessment on a nice summer’s day but I don’t think I’m going to enjoy it as much in the middle of a February when it is freezing cold. There may be real practical difficulties then as the paddocks will be muddy, rather than dusty as they are now. However, there will also be less of a tendency for the pigs to wallow.”

“I don’t think these assessments are that difficult on most units but I believe the instructions can make them seem more complicated than they actually are.”

Jake agreed there were teething problems with Real Welfare but that was only to be expected. He also has real concerns over the validity of the enrichment section.

He said: “I definitely believe there is value in Real Welfare. We have not been doing it long enough for those benefits to become apparent yet.

“I can think of some pig farms in the past where this would have been a very useful tool to point out problems. In these cases, measurements such as these would be a great help in identifying the causes and actions needed.”

Actually carrying out the assessment, Jake finds the clicker counter useful as it helped him keep a tally of the count in large groups. One of the major problems can be dirty or coloured pigs, which make skin lesion scoring impossible. That said, the number of skin lesions in outdoor finished pigs seems very low.

“When the pigs are moving around a lot, there is also the possibility of counting the same pigs twice so I try to keep moving around to different areas of the paddock. Keeping on the move also helps cut down being nibbled!

Jake is, overall, a supporter of Real Welfare, saying: “What we are doing is measurable and will help demonstrate the quality of the welfare we have.”

Jake’s concerns, amongst others, were discussed at a recent Real Welfare review meeting. The meeting was organised by Red Tractor and BPEX, and 20 stakeholders took part.

The decision was made that, although the reasoning behind Real Welfare is still as important, assessment of environmental enrichment would be suspended until the end of February 2014 pending a re-design. The group of stakeholders will now also consider the value of the recording non-severe tail lesions and body marks, and review the practicality of the sampling protocol.

"It can be pleasant walking round a field doing an assessment on a nice summer's day," commented Jake.

Further Reading

Go to our previous news item on Real Welfare assessment by clicking here.

October 2013

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