Tackling livestock and agriculture challenges together
Although larger, more intensive farms can better maintain a stable, quality workforce, intensification and large animal numbers can increase animal (and human) stress and disease pressure. Animals in modern commercial production systems are often confined to housing systems that limit their ability to express species-specific behavior. This can lead to damaging behaviors such as tail biting or feather pecking. Unfortunately, this can cause injured animals or the need for euthanasia. It remains a very difficult decision to euthanize an animal. It is not crystal clear when to euthanize a sick or injured pig, despite written policies. Again, this depends on thorough staff training in euthanasia protocols and clear procedures to reassure staff to reduce animal suffering.
Moreover, the efficiency of animal husbandry creates new challenges for agricultural workers. For example, with increasing litter size in pig farming, piglet mortality is sometimes a significant concern. Farm workers must have the skills to care for large numbers of piglets, as the number of viable piglets may exceed the number of teats available. For this reason, the use of nurse-sow systems, early and split weaning, and the use of artificial rearing systems are being introduced on a farm.
Last, but not least, the welfare issues associated with handling and transporting animals are an issue. Larger systems with automated systems prevent animals with little experience of human contact from being handled. Different risk factors are important depending on the type and age of the animal in transit. For example, the risk of bone fractures is higher in hens at the end of lay; they require gentle handling and catching before transport. The same goes for chicks, piglets and juveniles.
In general, collecting, handling and loading animals for transport is always stressful for the animals. Other conditions during transport such as ventilation and temperature control are also very important and cause major losses in animal production chains.