Almost three years after the total implementation of the Animal Welfare Law, at least on the farms that I have visited in the south of the European Union I stand by, more and more, on the idea that good farmers have always worried for the animals' welfare in general, and especially for that of the animals that they raise on their farms.
It is basic that the animals are well to obtain a good production.
The fulfillment of the Animal Welfare Law recommendations is not enough. The fulfillment of the legal animal welfare is not enough: it is necessary that the animals live under the best possible conditions. Real Welfare is necessary.
But... what is welfare?
Welfare is the absence of worries, having the different needs satisfied.
If we know what to offer the piglets so their basic needs are fulfilled, we will be offering welfare, and we we will obtain a good production.
What are a piglet's basic needs?
- A good feeding system.
- A good resting place.
- A good place for defecating.
The feeding, resting and defecation areas are perfectly defined. They are identical pens (although symmetrical) located in a nursery building. The piglets entered it on the same day. Each group chooses a different corner for sleeping. Putting an extra creep feeder (we are the ones to choose its location) forces the piglets to go to a less comfortable area to rest.
A good feeding system
Apart from the different kinds of feed and our plans for their use, this includes the water availability and quality, as well as all the elements in the premises: hoppers, creep feeders, water troughs... even the silos and the automatic feed transport systems needed to provide all the necessary nutrients correctly.
We will be the ones to choose the feeding area by placing the different systems for providing feed and water.
A good place to rest
If we bear in mind that a growing pig spends 80-90% of its time resting, it is clear that obtaining a comfortable place for resting will ensure 80-90% of the animals' welfare.
It is the animals who choose the resting area. It is always the most comfortable one among the possibilities offered.
How must the resting area be?
- Warm in winter and cool in summer.
- With a dry floor. Away from the drinkers. If the animals rest huddled near the drinker it is because the have the need to control it. It may tell us that the water availability is not good enough.
- Protected from draughts. Better with a solid floor, because it avoids draughts near the animals, which is an important cause of discomfort.
- With an leaning spot to lie against.
- Away from circulation areas.
- The corners and walls are normally one of the favourite areas for resting.
The piglets have gone to the most comfortable area for resting, away from draughts,
on a sheet located in front of the hopper to avoid feed losses.
In a country such as Spain, with a marked climate seasonality, the resting area within a pen will change with the seasons.
Climate is one of the key factors for attaining good welfare conditions, and it seems that the law has not borne this in mind. We, as farmers, must not forget it
A good place to defecate
Normally, this place is the one farthest away from the area chosen for resting and feeding. Obviously, the animals also choose it.
In order to avoid problems it is basic that the three areas are perfectly delimited. In this way we will guarantee the best welfare conditions for all the animals.
If the three areas are not well delimited we will have problems.
An excessive stocking density is the main cause for a bad delimitation of the areas. The animals will have to sleep on the defecation area, so they will be dirty. Also, the access to the feeding area will be difficult. The lack of enough resources makes the animals uncomfortable, and causes them to have an incorrect development and uneven weights.
At this point, bearing in mind that the production systems are growingly larger and with a higher productivity, the question I pose is: from the viewpoint of welfare, which should be the size of the group of animals housed in a pen?
Without doubt as large as possible. If we have to house 500 animals in groups of 25 we will need 20 pens. This is, we will need to establish 20 places for resting and 20 places for defecating.
If we house them in groups of 100 pigs we will only need 5 pens, 5 places for resting and 5 places for defecating.
The larger the number of pens, the more places for feeding, defecating and resting we will need.
A large pen, with a high number of animals, will allow us to make the most of the space, and the piglets will be able to find the best place to rest away from the defecation area.
It is necessary that we, all the people implied in animal production, know the different needs of the animals and watch their behaviour to ensure that we raise them under the best welfare conditions.