Published on Feb. 1, 2022
Raising the bar: setting standards for animal welfare in swine
Hypor, the swine brand of Hendrix Genetics, is setting the standard for sustainable swine breeding. Perhaps it doesn’t stop there – every day we have animals under our care, so how can we work towards also setting the standard in swine welfare practices? There are several stages of production, all of which could have standards set for animal welfare.
Setting the standard
What does it mean to ‘set the standard’? Currently, there are no sustainable animal breeding standards that exist, but they are needed in order to feed a growing world population in a way that can be sustained continuously for many years to come. As a swine genetics company, we are at the top of the value chain and can influence every link in the chain, all the way to the consumer. To create these standards, we can look at multiple factors. Food safety, animal welfare, environmental impact, responsible consumption, and societal wellbeing are placed in different contexts depending on the region and country. By breeding the right animal with the right quality for the right region or the right group of consumers, we will address the right mix of sustainability topics and maintain our mission to support the global food challenge.
Many stages of swine production can be improved through setting standards for higher animal welfare. Hypor, our swine genetic brand, is already leading the way towards being the standard bearer in swine welfare. By working together setting these standards, we can make improvements to the swine industry, and provide healthy, ethically raised, and sustainable pork to help feed the world.
This stage of production is an area that has received a lot of attention in recent years, in topics such as housing, nutrition, or the animals themselves. Depending on the region of the world, loose housing might be the only option, or gestation crates may still be permitted. Hypor is the only global breeding company to keep all dam line nucleus sows in loose housing during gestation. The next step is for all sire line nucleus sows in loose housing, which is in progress as assets are renewed. Enrichment is also incorporated into these loose housing pens.
Another area of attention to improve the welfare of gestating sows is the feeding program. It has long been recognized that a gestating sow’s nutrient requirements can be met with a relatively small amount of feed compared to their stomach, often leaving the sow hungry for many hours of the day, leading to frustration and sometimes stereotypic behaviors. The utilization of fiber into gestating sow diets, or provision of straw, continues to receive attention and is an area for future exploration to improve the welfare of gestating sows.
Finally, housing of sows in loose pens, with their contemporaries, means there is more pressure on feet, legs, and general body structure due to increased activity and social interactions. While Hypor is already able to indirectly improve the structure of our sows, it is likely that greater pressure on these traits will be needed in the future. Implementation of camera technology or automated gait scoring may be an option to directly improve feet, leg, and body structure.
The farrowing room offers a new set of opportunities to improve the welfare of sows and her piglets. In recent years, there has been attention around loose farrowing housing, where sows are either minimally confined during farrowing, or they are not confined at all. This is still a new area of research to determine the best housing set up to maximize sow welfare and natural behavior, while also minimizing piglet losses. Hypor is interested in exploring these housing systems as it will allow selection of sows with even better mothering ability.
Another area of interest is autonomous lactation feeding. There are several feeding systems in the marketplace that focus on the sow and her ability to choose when she wants to eat and how much. This offers the sow choice and the option to have true ad libitum feeding, the latter can be critical to manage body condition loss during lactation.
There are many opportunities to set the standard for animal welfare for piglets early in life. Depending on the country of production, processing tasks, such as teeth clipping, tail docking, or castration might be partially or completely prohibited. As a global company, Hendrix Genetics adheres to local legislation where our farms are located, but we are also exploring how we can go above and beyond to improve the health and welfare of our animals.
Wean to finish
The final stages of production, weaning to finishing, also present opportunities to set the standard for pig welfare. As with all life stages, it is important to provide high quality enrichment or toys to pigs and this is still an area where improvements can be made to reduce any negative behavior of piglets towards contemporaries (e.g. belly nosing, tail biting). With advancements in technology, it becomes easier to measure and record more information. For example, there is ample opportunity to utilize more advanced environmental measurements to better control and intervene where we are raising pigs. The incorporation of machine learning or automated reactions to changes in the environment are also a possibility. These systems also aim to integrate different components of the pig’s environment, but can we use that to improve animal welfare? For example, tail biting is extremely multifactorial, but can be influenced by different environmental parameters. Can our smart systems become better at detecting when the conditions are right for tail biting to start?
Setting the standard in swine welfare practices is a continuous process. The commitment from Hendrix Genetics is already there and we strive to make improvements on our farms today and tomorrow. Awareness of various animal welfare research and even involvement in this research ensures that we will be some of the first to adopt any new strategies. After all, if we want to continue to breed better animals, they also need to be happy and healthy animals today and tomorrow.
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