People – not production systems – dictate the welfare of our pigs

Duncan Berkshire is one of the lead vets within the five-vet pig team at Bishopton Veterinary Group, based in Yorkshire

So welfare continues to be a big topic as we march through the early part of 2019 and there are no signs of it moving off the radar. It looks like the next version of the Welfare Codes, so often said to be heading to Parliament in the middle of 2018, are finally going to make it into place later on this year.

This exercise has been a very protracted one, but has shown how the pig sector and Government can work well together to get a more sensible outcome when each side listens to each other – we’re not quite at the finishing line yet, but the progress so far is welcome, if slow.

Welfare will remain on the agenda with regards to the consumer, retailers and the continued animal activist incursions that now seem to surface on a semi-regular basis.

Among all of these outside challenges, it is really important that we don’t forget we also have a very important role in maintaining the high levels of welfare that are present on farm on a day-to-day basis.

The Five Freedoms, originally formally adopted in 1979, are a great set of principles to keep in mind to make sure we are doing everything we can for the pigs on farm. Although we can’t guarantee all of them will be correct and present when we arrive first thing in the morning, we should aim to attain them as quickly as possible once we arrive on site.

While the main four freedoms are based around simple common sense ideas – make sure the pigs are not hungry, thirsty, uncomfortable, in pain, injured, suffering from disease or showing fear or distress) – the fifth freedom, to express most normal behaviour, is a more tricky one.

The UK has a big drive to maintain the diverse set of production systems demanded by retailers and consumers – we are unique in this respect. It is with regards to this fifth freedom that the production systems vary. They have different space allowances, environmental parameters, flooring and bedding to name but a few, and this is where the consumer draws a link to pig welfare.

This surfaces from time to time with discussions about production system labelling as a marker for ‘welfare’, something that oversimplifies the entire set up of the UK pig sector.

We must remember that by far the most significant influence on the welfare of the pigs on farm are the people working with them.

This is clearly irrespective of the production system present and the use of those five guiding freedoms as an aid for all those working with the pigs should be encouraged.

We should rightly be proud of our sector and together we can make sure others know about all the good work that we do.

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