Good welfare of farmers as a precondition to provide welfare to pigs on farms

Last week, I was invited to the Animal Science Days in Padua to present my Master thesis results concerning the effect of farm modernization on the welfare of pigs in Croatia. I was given the opportunity to present my results twice; first, I presented my main results as an invited speaker and later I presented some aspects of my thesis in the form of a poster.

The main point of my study was that the modernization of Croatian housing systems, particularly small ones, does not necessarily ensure a better standard of pig welfare. This is because it often entails the removal of bedding and intensification of production, amongst others to reduce labour time and costs. Bedding such as straw is, however, important because it reduces injuries resulting from behavioural abnormalities directed towards pen mates (i.e. belly nosing, ear and tail chewing) and floor qualities. Also, across Europe intensification has risen much concern regarding the welfare of intensively housed animals. One can therefore suggest that Croatia needs to find a way to modernise its production units while retaining its beneficial aspects such as small scale and straw bedding.

In the course of my study, however, I found out that small pig farmers-which make up the majority of Croatian pig farmers- often lacked knowledge about the concept of pig welfare and the EU pig welfare directives. In fact, they seemed to be uninformed about the exact changes which will occur in the course of implementing the EU rules and regulations. This resulted on the one hand in frustration regarding their own lack of future perspective and on the other hand in a lack of interest regarding their motivation to ensure or improve the welfare of their pigs. The results thus suggest that motivations to ensure pig welfare are also dependent on the welfare of the pig farmers.

My main conclusion was therefore that in order to ensure animal welfare, it is necessary to ensure welfare of farmers as well. In order to ensure and improve pig welfare in the future, this topic needs to be approached from both social sciences and animal sciences in order to understand the close link between human and animal welfare. My presentation received great interest from the audience and I hope that this topic will be further elaborated in order to support small Croatian farmers and their pigs in the future.