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Freedom to Express Normal Behavior

The agricultural animal keeper must know the behaviors that reflect the natural behavior of the given animal species and those that differ from it, according to the age and physiological state of the individual.

The natural behavior of animals kept outdoors must always be taken into account when creating facilities suitable for housing them. For an animal kept in closed conditions, the animal keeper is obliged to provide adequate room for movement, adapted to the animal’s needs.

In the case of any husbandry technology, animal welfare means that an environment as close to cultivation as possible must be provided to express the animal’s natural behaviors.

The Hungarian law on animal protection’s basic principle in article 6: «The animal must not be used to unnatural and self-destructive activities.»

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Freedom from Fear and Distress

Anxiety, stress, panic, terror, fear of death, animals feel and experience them all. Not just feeding the animals, the so-called meeting their physiological needs is ideal for them, just as it does not make us happy just to have something to eat, nor even if the food is nutritious, this is only the first step. In order to achieve the good quality of products from farm animals, the stability of their mental state is also a necessary condition.

Ethical behavior seeks to promote the well-being of animals. The law separates different degrees of animal cruelty, starting with a misdemeanor and even classifying it as a crime. For example, fear caused by various noises, temperature changes, deprivation of food and spawning water for the animals during transport can also shorten their lives.

The quality of the meat that ends up on the kitchen table largely depends on how the farm animal was treated, even at the slaughterhouse. Stress also affects lactation, as a result of which the dairy animal’s metabolism can be upset, and due to the adrenaline hormone, it does not give milk, or it gives milk of poor quality. Increased corticosteroid levels due to stress can also be the foundation of health problems.

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Freedom from Hunger, Malnutrition and Thirst

The quality, nutritional composition, and naturalness of the food we eat are of great importance to our entire body, whether it is the strength of our immune system or the maintenance of our stamina, and the processes that take place during our digestion also have an effect on our mood. What we eat reaches our cells, hence the saying: You are what you eat!

There is no question about the conditions in which farm animals are kept, including their nutrition, the quality of their feed, and the quality of drinking water, affect the quality of the food supply chain. Meeting the nutritional needs of different animal species is a complex process, which largely depends on the stage of life the particular animal is in, and how a particular component of the feed is utilized at this age, but it also does not matter what season it is, or what the differences due to climate. Feed is also needed by farm animals fed from pasture, where the quality of the pasture’s nutrient soil requires constant consideration. Malnutrition is therefore not only a consequence of quantitative starvation, but of course our farm animals cannot suffer either from that or from qualitative starvation.

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Zero stress for farm animals

According to leading animal welfare researcher Donald Broom (2005), stress is defined as the action of environmentally induced stimuli and emotions on an animal’s nervous, endocrine, circulatory and digestive systems, which can be measured.

The consequences of a hostile stimulus on an animal depend not only on that stimulus, but also on the animal’s ability to adapt to it. The factors that cause animal stress may be related to the facilities in which the animal lives, its food, the presence of diseases, the possibility of relating to its peers or the relationship of its caregivers.

 It has been demonstrated that having good facilities, a complete and balanced diet, biosecurity measures to prevent diseases, housing conditions with the possibility of expressing natural behaviors, and adequate human care minimize the stress suffered by the animals.

Stress, therefore, is one of the scientifically based parameters that is measurable and becomes one of the parameters that define the welfare of an animal.

Qualified management, a key aspect to ensure animal welfare

Stress not only has an emotional influence on the animal, if it is maintained it can be a trigger for the animal’s susceptibility or infectious diseases and that is why, from birth, and throughout the breeding process, it is necessary to have the right conditions that allow the best possible development of the animals, from having facilities adapted to the needs of each stage of life of the animals; from feeding specific to the physiological state of each stage of life, to vaccination and disease prevention programs, as well as having operators trained in animal welfare, ensures that farm animals suffer less stress than those found in the wild.

For example, the training of workers includes how they should address the animals, instructing them to treat the animals in a slow, never abrupt manner, with a soft voice. Studies show that these guidelines improve stress conditions. Specifically, a study by the University of Vienna published in the journal Frontier in Psychology even states that interactions with animals using the voice may be less positive when spoken artificially, i.e. by using microphones.

Handling, transport and temperature as main stress factors.

Other recommended handling guidelines refer to how the animals should be transported, ensuring that this is always done in a slow, unhurried manner, providing the space they need and avoiding movements at times of high temperature.

Respecting the animal is the main piece when it comes to respecting the production process and the work of many farmers who sacrifice their lives for their animals.

During the breeding process, several factors must be taken into account, such as the fact that all ruminants have a personal space that will depend to a great extent on their nature or docility. Having knowledge of this «escape zone» will be useful to know how to move among those elements with which the animal feels comfortable and free of anguish.

In turn, the «escape zone» is the area around the animal in which it is relaxed. Those ruminants that are tame do not require this specific area, while those that are not, need an escape zone that avoids causing fatigue or stress if it is crossed.

Climate change, the main enemy

Although there is a great diversity of breeds of cows, sheep and goats that are adapted to the environment and are resistant to changes in environmental conditions, one of the aspects that has the greatest impact on stress is temperature.

To adapt to the conditions imposed by an increasingly variable climate, farms have ventilation systems that regulate factors such as humidity, thermal sensation and even the «bedding» where the animals are housed. This allows the animals to better adapt to the thermal situation at any given time. For example, during the summer months, water becomes an essential component for the animals, as does having spaces that are able to provide sufficient shaded, aerated and uncrowded areas.

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Training, a key aspect to ensure true animal welfare

In our previous post we told you how the commendable work of Ruth Harrison was the triggering point that managed to mobilize society so that, today, we can be confident that Animal Welfare is an empirical discipline based on scientific, measurable and traceable criteria that can be followed over time to verify its effectiveness and to ensure the continuous improvement of our farms.

Since the World Health Organization published the Terrestrial Animal Health Code so that member countries of the World Trade Organization (WTO) could harmonize their national legislation on Animal Welfare, progress in this area has experienced exponential growth. This growth has made it possible to define the areas of action that truly guarantee the welfare and health of animals and that are translated into codes of good practice and different regulations to provide the appropriate regulatory and legal framework.

Among all the aspects that have been established as key to guarantee the true and genuine animal welfare, we would like to highlight the training of the personnel that has contact with the animals in the different stages of their life, and that allows them to be qualified personnel in permanent and continuous training and recycling.

In the case of Spain, Royal Decree 348/2000 on the protection of animals on farms, specifically includes training as one of the fundamental aspects when within the guidelines regarding breeding conditions, by literally demanding «Competent and sufficient personnel for animal husbandry».

Taking into account that in order to guarantee animal welfare it is first necessary to ensure that a series of requirements and parameters have been fulfilled, which must be adequately measured and quantified, it is logical to think that the training of personnel is essential in the management of a farm.

The importance of training to avoid zoonoses.

And this is really important, because, ensuring proper farm management not only ensures good health in animals (which translates immediately into increased production, higher product quality and lower costs), but something even more important. Because good farm management prevents and avoids the possibility of disease transmission to humans.

It is for this reason that the Farm Health and Biosecurity Program, the result of the European commitment to animals, is a program that minimizes the possibility of any external pathogen entering the farm. And, at the same time, it also guarantees that nothing is transmitted outside the farm, thus avoiding zoonosis or transmission of vertebrate animal diseases to humans.

In order to have full guarantees, this program not only contemplates the intrinsic aspects of livestock management itself, but also considers fundamental aspects of the physical location of the farm (physical biosecurity) as well as aspects related to the design of the farm itself (structural biosecurity). Given that all these demands require specific training, RD 348/2000 itself demands the training and suitability of personnel as an essential requirement that must be demonstrable.

Animal welfare certifications and staff training.

In the case of the animal welfare certifications of Interovic, Provacuno and JTT, the training of personnel is one of the fundamental aspects that must be carried out conscientiously, that requires updating over time and that must be possible to demonstrate to a third party.

For this reason, the training is based on the results of scientific studies based on the analysis of the needs of ruminants and a continuous observation that has determined the specific and fundamental needs of these species at each moment of their life.

In addition, these certifications also require that the continuous training of farm operators goes through safety criteria and protection measures that contemplate a wide range of aspects, such as:

  1. Prudent handling of animals and tools.
  2. Knowing the degree of aggressiveness of the animals with which they work.
  3. Correct restraint and containment of the animals so that they do not suffer damage.
  4. Try to move the animals at the first attempt and with the minimum stress for them.
  5. Drive cattle in lateral position with respect to the group of animals.
  6. Be in possession of the necessary protective equipment. 7) Avoid handling during the day.
  7. Avoid handling in the hottest hours on days with high temperatures.
  8. Prevention to avoid contagion with zoonosis:
    • personal hygiene: cover wounds or injuries.
    • Vaccinations of workers at risk.
    • Cleaning and disinfection of facilities.
    • Pest and vector control.
    • isolation of sick animals.
  9. Avoid chemical and physical risks (trauma) and environmental contamination. Use of adequate protection, such as masks. Learning to handle manure and slurry avoiding gas emissions with protective equipment.

Therefore, the animal welfare certifications of Interovic, Provacuno and JTT, not only contemplate the legal requirements, but also put the training in the center and, specifically, the specific training in the handling of ruminants, thus guaranteeing the maximum specialization of the personnel.

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