Size Doesn’t Matter For Animal Welfare

Researchers from a UK-based NGO say the size of a livestock feeding facility does not suggest significant differences in animal welfare practices. ( Wyatt Bechtel )

The size of a livestock feeding facility does not affect the quality of animal welfare. That’s according to research published by a United Kingdom-based non-profit that examined the welfare level on 60 conventional pig farms in Northern Germany with capacity ranging from 250 to 11,000 pigs.

The report published Universities Federation for Animal Welfare’s (UFAW) journal Animal Welfare suggests that while some consumers may believe animal welfare is compromised on large farms, their research indicates the situation is far from clear cut.

“Our study did not show that farm size was a factor for the animals’ welfare,” says one of the authors, Dr. Christian Lambertz of the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL). “However, the high occurrence of bursitis and soiled animals, which are known to be affected by floor type and quality, underline the necessity of improving the quality of floors and of climate management. Simple adjustments in the management of space allowances and of water supply can also improve welfare.”

Using four basic principles – good feeding, good housing, good health and appropriate behavior – the researchers said none of the farm sizes proved superior in terms of animal welfare.

Farm size did not affect the principle of good feeding, which scored the highest of all four principles – mainly due to the fact that only a very limited number of pigs had a poor body condition.  However, the water supply was found to be insufficient on 16 of the farms and a lack of and poorly functioning drinkers were found across all the farm sizes with one farm recording a maximum number of 43 pigs per drinker, which far exceeded the threshold of 12 per drinker required to meet German regulations. 

Farm size did not affect the principle of good health either – although this was scored the lowest of the four principles.  Moderate wounds were the third most common indicator of poor welfare and there was also a high frequency of bursitis, wounds and manure on the pigs – indicative of the necessity for progression in the production system to improve animal welfare.  Although the study assessed tail-biting, lameness, hernia, severe wounds, skin condition, coughing and sneezing these were only seen at very low rates without any difference between the farm sizes. 

Appropriate behavior also recorded low scores in all the farm sizes. The space allowances in more than 40% of the pens were below the German Farm Animal Welfare Regulations and over-crowded pens were found on 92% of the farms - although the proportion of over-crowed pens was lowest on large farms.

UFAW is an independent and educational animal welfare charity.