Farm size does not affect animal welfare, research shows

The size of a farm is irrelevant when it comes animal welfare, new research has found.

The research, published in the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW) journal Animal Welfare, focused specifically on whether animal welfare is compromised on larger farms and, if so, how.

Researchers looked at the welfare level of sixty conventional fattening pig farms in Northern Germany with a range of 250 pigs to 11,000 pigs per farm.  Using four basic principles – good feeding, good housing, good health and appropriate behaviour, the study revealed that none of the farm sizes proved superior in terms of animal welfare.  However, none of the farms were scored as ‘excellent’.

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. Nonetheless, 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 in meet German legislation.

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, the researchers said.

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 behaviour 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.

One of the report’s authors, Dr Christian Lambertz, of the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) said: Our study did not show that farm size was a factor for the animals’ welfare, 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.”

The study concluded that although overall, acceptable or enhanced scores were achieved for many of the criteria, the need for improvement in others was clear.

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Editor of LBM titles Pig World and Farm Business and group editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer. National Pig Association's webmaster. Previously political editor at Farmers Guardian for many years and also worked Farmers Weekly. Occasional farming media pundit. Brought up on a Leicestershire farm, now work from a shed in the garden in Oxfordshire. Big fan of Leicester City and Leicester Tigers. Occasional cricketer.