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Indicators to monitor the welfare of group-housed sows

Published on
January 28, 2021

In the recently published review on group housing and mixing of sows, EURCAW-Pigs suggests animal-based indicators that inspectors can use to monitor the welfare of group-housed sows. These indicators are now presented and described in seven indicator factsheets.

Review

In December 2020, EURCAW-Pigs published a review on the welfare of group-housed sows. The review provides knowledge on sow behaviour and their cohabitation in social relationships. It further highlights four focus areas for welfare in sows kept in groups under commercial conditions: (1) mixing with unfamiliar pigs, (2) competition for resources, (3) restrictive feeding and (4) climate and resting comfort. Additionally, the review provides specific animal-based indicators, which may help inspectors to identify welfare issues of group- oused sows during official inspections and assess compliance with Council Directive 2008/120/EC laying down minimum standards for the protection of pigs, and Council Directive 98/58/EC concerning the protection of animals kept for farming purposes.

Indicators

The selected indicators are now presented in seven indicator factsheets. Each factsheet describes the link between an indicator and the respective welfare problem, also in relation to Council Directives 2008/120/EC and 98/58/EC. A recommended inspection method is outlined (e.g. when to assess the indicators), and a scoring method is suggested based on well-known and commonly applied assessment schemes. The factsheets include:

  • Body condition: indicator of quantity of food intake by individual sows.
  • Lameness: indicator of sows’ pain and discomfort due to insufficient flooring.
  • Manure on the body: indicator for sows’ competition for lying areas and climatic comfort.
  • Panting: indicator of heat stress in sows.
  • Skin lesions: indicator for aggression due to mixing of or competition between sows.
  • Stereotypies: indicators for frustration due to hunger and inappropriate foraging behaviour in sows.
  • Vulva lesions: indicator of being bitten by a competitor when sows are feeding in stalls without protection.

Official inspectors from Member States are invited to contact EURCAW-Pigs for suggestions, comments or questions about the factsheets.

(Photo: Sham chewing (©FLI, A. Schubbert))