New pig welfare checking system launched

Bpex is to launch a major new research project into pig welfare that it hopes will lead to a new benchmark across all types of production systems.

Using measurable “indicators” along with current welfare “inputs”, such as stocking density and pen enrichment, producers will be able to demonstrate welfare from the pig’s perspective.

Lameness, tail lesions, body lesions, hospitalisation and enrichment use were identified as suitable indicators of finisher pigs’ wellbeing in pilot trials by Bpex and the University of Bristol.

Sows will also be assessed for body condition score, shoulder and vulva lesions.

As part of the research, around 20 pig vets will make assessments on 180 commercial pig farms, starting early next year. A total of 360 farm visits will be made to gather the information required over time.

Welfare will be evaluated during vets’ routine quarterly farm visits to build up a set of anonymous data and start to identify typical values to benchmark welfare. The assessments will cover finishing pigs in straw and non-straw systems, as well as indoor and outdoor breeding sow systems.

Dr Mike Varley, head of research and development at Bpex, said: “The project will provide an objective means of demonstrating that producers are good ‘welfarists’, instead of being judged on type or size of unit or the perception that one production system is better than another.

“Plus, it will provide a valuable tool to help inform management decisions on farm.”