Animal welfare is the farmer's top priority

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Farmers are ready to provide the best care for their animals day and night. They know better than none the benefits to be gained from healthy animals, and prioritise animal welfare concerns and the quality of life of their animals. Not just because healthy animals perform better, but also because animal welfare standards are increasingly imposed by the government and social interest organisations. In the Netherlands, we comply with the highest animal welfare standards in the world - all thanks to our committed farmers. In fact, our farmers often go the extra mile and comply with non-statutory requirements established by market concepts or quality systems.

What is animal welfare?

There is no single, clear scientific definition of what animal welfare is. Among other things, an animal is in a good state of welfare if it is healthy and its innate, natural needs are met. Animal welfare is often expressed based on the so-called 'Five Freedoms' (Brambell 1965): 

  • Freedom from hunger or thirst. By providing ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour;
  • Freedom from discomfort.. By providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area;
  • Freedom from pain, injury or disease. By prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment;
  • Freedom from fear and distress. By ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering;
  • Freedom to express (most) normal behaviour.  By providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal's own kind.
Animal welfare

Why is animal welfare important? 

Good animal welfare is crucial to ensure efficient production of meat and eggs. Only animals that feel content and comfortable can deliver an optimal performance. Animals suffering from unpleasant states such as illness or discomfort will have a poor feed intake. Consequently their growth or production will decline and there will be higher mortality. Boredom and stress cause abnormal behaviour and poor health. This is often expressed by behaviour such as feather pecking by chickens and tail biting among pigs.

Poor technical results can have serious financial consequences. This not only affects the revenues, but can also entail significantly higher costs for veterinary care of sick and diseased animals - such as extra costs for medication, visits by the vet and additional feed costs to aid the recovery of sick animals. All these cost factors will be reflected in the final operating results. 

Demonstrating transparency to society and consumers is an important principle behind enhancing animal welfare. Animal welfare is an is an important consideration of consumers. The quality of food is not only determined by the safety of the end product, consumers also demand safeguards about the welfare of the animals used to produce food. 

How can total automation systems contribute to animal welfare?

Improved housing systems, general health levels, genetic trends, veterinary guidance and improved hygiene have all contributed to a higher level of animal welfare in the livestock sector. But systems for total automation system also play a role. An automatic feeding system ensures that all the animals are fed their portion of feed with the right composition at the right time. Accurately formulated to suit the needs of the individual animal, resulting in better growth and less disease.

A well-regulated climate also promotes animal welfare. The temperature in the house is maintained at a level within the animals’ comfort zone and cold or heat stress is prevented. Another factor crucial to animal welfare is good air quality in a house, to prevent respiratory problems or infectious diseases. A suitable air inlet system ensures fresh air is distributed throughout the house without draughts or cold air dropping onto the animals. It also avoids soiled floors and wet litter, which can lead to claw and joint problems in pigs and painful leg and chest inflammations in broilers.

Management programs, which collect data generated by the automated processes and provide the farmer with up-to-date information on the production levels of these animals, are also important to animal welfare. These programs indicate any parameters that need to be adjusted to achieve even better results. 

Measuring animal welfare

When automating climate and feeding processes it has been customary practice for years to apply advanced technology designed to create the optimal conditions for the animals in the house. But for accurate valuation of animal welfare it is crucial to measure on and around the animal as well as taking the environmental factors into account. This allows us to make a better assessment of the level of animal welfare. The growth rate, body condition and abnormal behaviour supply a wealth of data about the well-being of an animal. But when we actually assess animal welfare, we must still rely on subjective and incidental methods such as periodic inspections in the house or even assessments afterwards in the slaughterhouse. Developments in sensor technology enable us to automatically monitor a growing number of facets of animal behaviour. A camera system that automatically registers the weights of finishers is a good example. This will in turn allow us to measure the actual comfort of animals to a far greater extent, and take the right steps when necessary.


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