A message from Dr. Mandy Nevel, AHDB’s Head of Animal Health and Welfare, a veterinary surgeon with experience in veterinary disease, health and welfare of ruminants and pigs.
Good animal health and welfare are vital for each and every animal on our farms and, as a vet, improving animal health and welfare is my passion. But how do we prove that we have good health and welfare in our animals?
As an industry we are increasingly being asked to demonstrate this and it doesn’t do to just say that we do.
Animal health is slightly easier to measure than animal welfare – how many animals have a particular disease or how much medicine has been used to treat diseases can be recorded. But for welfare, the easier measurements are the inputs into a system – for example the stocking density or how much trough space each animal has to feed from. Yet they don’t measure the welfare for the pig itself. Do those inputs result in better welfare, for example, less disease, less lameness or fewer injuries?
The Real Welfare scheme records and reports on welfare outcomes – what the pig itself experiences. It sets us apart from other countries where only inputs are reported.
Changes to management should be able to demonstrate a real improvement in health or welfare at the animal level itself. It is only through good recording on farm or in the abattoir that we will be able to do that.
During lockdown, we were unable to record health conditions in the abattoir and I am delighted that health assessments are now back up and running. New assessments will be found on our website and weekly e-newsletter.
In future, we will be making sure that we join up data sets to maximise the learnings we get not just from individual data sets but getting more information when we combine them. For example, pneumonia is both a health and welfare issue for our pigs as well as causing production inefficiency at farm and processor levels; it slows growth and can result in increased trimming of the carcase, slowing down the lines. But it also results in more antibiotics being used.
Joining up the data we collect on health, welfare and the use of antibiotics can be more powerful in terms of understanding the impacts of the disease than looking at those measures in isolation. But disease also impacts on the environment. Indeed, there is increasing awareness that animal health is one of the most significant factors influencing the environmental impact of livestock production systems.
To find out more about the real welfare scheme: https://ahdb.org.uk/real-welfare
To find out more about AHDB: www.meattheUKexporters.com