In September, representatives from EFA attended the International Conference on the Assessment of Animal Welfare (WAFL) in Ede, Netherlands. Attendees learned more about how animal welfare can be measured and monitored on farms.
There are three types of measures that can be used to assess welfare:
1. Resource based measurements – also known as input based measurements, these measures look at aspects of the animal’s environment. Historically the egg industry’s Animal Care Program has been made up of mostly resource based measurements such as assessing the amount of floor space, feeder space and water access per bird.
2. Management based measurements – these measures assess the overall level of management, including animal care procedures. These types of measures typically require farms to maintain records to verify their management practices. In recent years, a number of management based measures have been added to the Animal Care Program, including the requirement to maintain an Employee Code of Conduct, Handling and Catching Guide, and standard operating procedures for euthanasia.
3. Outcome based measurements – also known as animal or bird based measurements, these measures assess the actual state of the animal. Examples of outcome based measures include feather cover, foot pad health and keel bone scores. While the Animal Care Program currently does not include any outcome based measures, it is a requirement that at least one outcome based measure be added to the Animal Care Program as part of the current update to the 2017 Code of Practice using NFAC’s animal care assessment plan.
Outcome based measures are gaining popularity in livestock animal care assessments for a number of reasons:
• Measures are independent of the housing type, for example, foot pad scoring is the same regard less of whether your hens are in a conventional cage system or an aviary.
• When the right measures are selected, they can be a good signal for overall welfare of the animal and flock. For example, in pigs the number of tail lesions is seen as a good indicator of welfare – fewer tail lesions typically means that welfare overall is likely good, and vice versa.
• Outcome based measures can assure the public that the actual welfare of the animal is meeting a certain standard of welfare. This type of measure is also seen as being more transparent.
EFA learned that in Europe many processing facilities have automated foot pad scoring for broilers. If farms ship birds that don’t meet the foot pad health score, they have to reduce density at their next flock placement. It is anticipated that in the future, retailers may begin adopting more outcome based measures as part of their required standards from suppliers.
From a farm perspective, tracking outcome based measures can be a powerful management tool, providing you with early warning for potential health and production issues with your flock. EFA began familiarizing and training farmers on the Welfare Quality Assessment a few years ago, which provides tools for measuring a variety of outcome based measures.
So what are the next steps for outcome based measures in the Alberta egg industry? In 2018 EFA will be including a spot right in your record keeping books to track one outcome based measure – feather cover. Through the year, EFA will also be supporting farmers in adopting this measure by providing educational info in EggNotes, at regional meeting, etc. As the updated Animal Care Program is developed for the Canadian egg industry, EFA will keep producers updated on what outcome based measures will be included in the assessment, and how you can be prepared for the changes this may bring to your flock management.
At WAFL, EFA heard again and again that it is vital for farmers to have positive attitudes towards their animal care program and the measures used. It has been proven that when farmers have
positive attitudes, the care of animals actually improves! Keeping measures simple and continuing to keep farmers informed is an important focus for EFA’s animal care initiatives moving forward.
If you have ideas for how EFA can support you in providing excellent animal care, please contact Christina ([email protected]) at the EFA office.
If you are interested in reading more about outcome based measures, check out this recent article from the United Egg Producer’s last newsletter: New Learning about Animal Welfare Assessments (www.unitedegg.com/newsletter/readfile.cfm?id=744).