Pigs, layer hens, sheep, cattle, and companion animal welfare.

Sow stalls are on the way out. So are the smallest cages for layer hens. But they're not going fast or far enough for animal welfare lobbyists.

However, an industry can't change overnight, rather there is a phasing out of the old.

So says Massey University veterinarian and animal behaviour consultant Kevin Stafford in an interview about pigs, layer hens, sheep, and cattle, as well as dog and cat welfare.

The following is from http://www.stuff.co.nz/manawatu-standard/rural/2442737/Welfare-woes .

Sow stalls are on the way out. So are the smallest cages for layer hens. But they're not going fast or far enough for animal welfare lobbyists.

However, an industry can't change overnight, rather there is a phasing out of the old, says Massey University veterinarian and animal behaviour consultant Kevin Stafford.

The welfare of pigs and chickens, both intensively farmed, is a highly sensitive area.

An indoor commercial piggery, or poultry unit, bear little similarity to a sheep and beef farm, where animals roam about on hills.

And it's that outdoor lifestyle that many people deem to be as close to a natural state as possible in any farmed species.

Professor Stafford says the ways pigs and chickens are farmed is in a "mobile state" as consumers' expectations change and the industry responds.

Intensive farming is all about controlling as many facets of the animal production cycle as possible, and taking the risk factors out.

The welfare codes are all done by the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC), which comes under the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

It advises the agriculture minister, who signs off the codes.

At the moment, there are codes in place including those for circuses, companion cats, deer, painful husbandry (dehorning, castration and so forth), rodeos, and zoos. There are also welfare codes for fully-housed broiler (cooking) chickens and pigs. Under development are codes for commercial slaughter, dogs, sheep, and beef, transport of animals and others.

NAWAC has to revisit all of its codes within 10 years. Agriculture Minister David Carter has told the committee he wants it to look again at 2005 Code of Welfare for Pigs and he expects it to be a top priority.

In a letter sent to NAWAC's chairman, Peter O'Hara, Mr Carter wrote: "I would like to be able to issue a new code of welfare for pigs by the end of this year."

It was a political directive, which came about through the Save Animals from Exploitation (Safe) break-in, and filming of severely distressed pigs on a Levin farm.

It put the pressure on, with many people saying they had no idea pigs were bred and raised in such conditions. One of those was celebrity, and former frontman for the pork industry, Mike King.

Having a celebrity involved works, says Prof Stafford. He talked about singer Pink and her anti-Australian wool stance because of mulesing (when skin is cut away from a merino's rear end), and Pamela Anderson, who advocated consumers boycott KFC over allegations of its treatment of chickens.

Ad Feedback Then there was the era of the famous "I'd rather go naked than wear fur" poster, sponsored by animal rights organisation People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta), which featured supermodels Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Claudia Schiffer, Cindy Crawford, and Elle Macpherson.

"The codes are an indication of what the industry is moving towards. There are the minimum standards and then there is `best practice', and that tells you where the industry going in the future," Prof Stafford says.

In New Zealand, the concern is over housed pigs and the crates sows spend time in.

There are two, a farrowing crate, which is used for a sow to give birth in and allows her to feed, but stops her squashing the piglets, and the sow stalls, which house mated pigs.

They were both developed in the 1950s and have been used since.

The farrowing crates have cut piglet deaths in half, says Prof Stafford.

Stalls, which have less room, are where mated female pigs are put during gestation. There they can be fed the right amount of nutrients during pregnancy.

But they are confining.

"The idea is there is some evidence that there is embryonic loss in sows in stalls. That's what the science told us, but it is not conclusive," Prof Stafford says.

But no new piggeries would probably be build with such crates now, he added.

Times and expectations have changed. Safe will accelerate change, he says.

"About 10 per cent of pigs spend their lives in stalls, 20 per cent are outdoors all the time."

Prof Stafford talks about the pork industry's attitude to change.

Most have the will to improve the lot of pigs, although there are always some who work to the lowest common denominator, responding only to regulatory change, Prof Stafford says.

Better for the pigs, but harder for the farmers and their workers.

"In a pen the big ones used to get all the food, and some smaller pigs would get bullied.

"In stalls they could be fed individually it's foolproof."

But the crates and stalls are unacceptable now, Prof Stafford says.

"And we do know more about feeding, and pigs in pens, and if they have straw they are less aggressive. With good management, you can have sows in groups."

But it is a tougher ask of the people and their animal management skills.

So, what about an outdoor life?

That might seems like the best option for pigs, but it depends on environmental issues such as soil type, weather and shelter.

"Running pigs outdoors all year might be OK on the free-draining soils of Canterbury, but on Manawatu's heavy clays, it can become a muddy paddock quickly," Prof Stafford says.

Ten thousand hens outside could also create problems.

Combined with that, an outdoor piggery or chook farm may find it difficult to get a resource consent.

Rearing pigs and hens outside does mean higher costs. That's the conflict producers and consumers face.

The two big animal welfare issues are sow stalls and battery hen cages.

But there are others on the horizon.

Lameness in dairy cattle is a big issue and causes cows pain. For the sheep industry, it is lamb deaths, says Prof Stafford.

"Sometimes we see piles of dead lambs after a storm in the South Island we might know the lambs didn't suffer, or were born dead but, whatever you say, it is not a good look."

Both the dairy and sheep industries are researching ways to cut numbers as lameness and lamb deaths are production issues, he says.

Deer velveting is another that has potential to be an animal welfare nightmare. Consequently there are regulations to avoid pain and stress to deer.

Then there are some pet issues.

"Dogs incapable of functioning breeding, running around, having fun. Breeds such as the english bulldog, the daschund. They have extreme characteristics.

The good news, Prof Stafford says, is that the kennel clubs are moving to alter their breed show characteristics, to avoid such nightmares.

And cats the SPCA would say that there are too many breeding that are unwanted. There are too many feral kittens.

"These things, though important, are minor compared with the production animals dairy, sheep, pigs, and poultry.

"The country's big earners are in there."

And New Zealand beef cattle are right up there with the best.

"New Zealand beef is always held up as idyllic.

"There are few welfare issues with beef cattle."

Internationally, Prof Stafford says New Zealanders have nothing to be ashamed about.

The World Trade Organisation, the international trade police officer, does not allow animal welfare to be used as a trade barrier.

Should new regulations make some New Zealand pig farmers uneconomic, then New Zealand is likely to import even more than the current 700 tonnes a week of pork. "While in Australia the pig regulations are the same or better than in New Zealand, I don't know about our other big importer, Canada."

It might mean more imported pig meat from animals kept in worse conditions than those in New Zealand.

Article added: 05/2009