Animal Welfare Doesn’t Improve with Larger Facilities

Brian German Dairy & Livestock, Industry

Recently published research indicates that animal welfare is not dependent on the size of the facility.  The data was collected by the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW), a non-profit organization from the United Kingdom with the goal of developing and promoting improvements to the overall welfare of farm animals.

Animal WelfareThe research was published in UFAW’s journal Animal Welfare.  The information was based on the evaluation of the welfare level on 60 conventional pig farms with capacities ranging between 250 and 11,000 pigs.  The study suggests that overall farm size was not a factor in the overall welfare of the animals involved with the operation.

Researchers used four metrics to evaluate overall farm conditions.  Housing, health, feeding, and behavior were all calculated in the assessment of the farming operations.  The data that was recorded demonstrated no significant differences between small and large farms in terms of the general welfare of the animals.

Good feeding scored the highest of the four measuring factors with only a small number of pigs demonstrating poor body condition regardless of farm size. Health was the lowest scoring metric with high numbers of wounds and bursitis, although levels were mostly consistent between small and large farms.  Appropriate behavior levels also received lower scores no matter the size of the farm, suggesting no significant differences in the health and welfare of animals between large and small feeding facilities.

These findings appear to contradict the message being delivered by supporters of Proposition 12, which will increase the minimum spacing standards for animal agriculture.  The proposition now requires 43 square feet of space for each calf raised for veal and 24 square feet for each breeding pig.  Egg-laying hens will need to have at least one square foot of space per bird.  It also requires out-of-state farms which sell those commodities in California to meet the new square footage standards.  Some economic forecasts for the impact of the new spacing standards are predicting rising consumer prices for eggs as well as millions of dollars the state will lose due to enforcement costs and decreased farm taxes.

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Brian German

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Ag News Director, AgNet West