Pig farming across Europe could look a lot different with high animal welfare standards in place
To protect the health and happiness of farmed animals, as well as reach the EU’s sustainable food and farming goals, it’s critical that much fewer animals are farmed, and those that are enjoy the highest possible animal welfare standards. We spoke to farmer Maciej, who works for the Pstra Wybiegana group in Poland, about his experiences of raising pigs whose welfare is made a priority each day.
Across Europe, millions of pigs are suffering on factory farms: where their natural instincts are stifled, their bodies are mutilated and they spend significant periods of their lives trapped in dirty, tiny cages.
It doesn’t have to be this way. In their revision to the animal welfare legislation, the European Commission must include strict, specific rules for pigs to ensure they can live satisfying and engaging lives. These assurances are the least any sentient being deserves - and there are a range of case studies across Europe that show exactly what kind of measures work to ensure pig welfare.
One such example comes from a pig farm in the heart of Poland, Pstra Wybiegana - a collaborative effort by two farms to raise pigs following extremely high animal welfare standards. We asked farmer Maciej to tell us more about their efforts to ensure their pigs lead good quality lives under their care.
Why have you chosen to farm following high animal welfare standards?
We just feel like this is the only way humans should work with animals - we should of course all be following the highest possible animal welfare standards we can! They deserve the very best of what we can offer them.
We also think that by following these standards, we’re offering our consumers peace of mind when they buy animal products from us, as well as contributing to a more sustainable planet and better food systems. By only selling small amounts locally of high quality animal products, we encourage our consumers to eat much fewer animal-derived products in general: which is better for public health and the environment. By operating on this scale, we’re also supporting the local economy, while at the same time putting a lot of effort into making our farm truly nature friendly. By only working with a small number of pigs we’re able to give each of them a lot of attention too, which is really gratifying.
Tell us a bit about your farm. What do you feed your pigs?
Our pigs have a diverse diet, which includes steamed potatoes, greens, grain middlings and whey.
Potatoes give our pigs energy, greens give them fibres and vitamins, and grain middlings and whey supply proteins, vitamins and water. All of these different ingredients have real nutritional value - and what’s more, they taste great. Our pigs love their food - but we don’t overindulge them, because it’s important to their welfare that they have opportunities to forage for their own snacks in the wild, as this is one of their deeply-ingrained natural instincts. Fortunately, our variety of outdoor areas provides plenty of opportunities to do that.
What kind of habitats can your farmed pigs access?
Our pigs are able to experience a range of different habitats and terrains, and we let them out all year round.
We think that this diversity in their environment is important, as they’re able to get a lot of benefits from being exposed to a variety of areas. As a few examples, we provide them with:
- Large, grassy grounds - so our farmed pigs can enjoy digging and rooting in search of food, as well as playing in water
- Runs - which have been specifically designed to help them interact with each other and enjoy themselves
- Showers - where they can cool down in the summer
- Small rock areas - to stimulate their brains and give them something to bite on, which is good for their dental hygiene
- Cosy indoor areas - to which they can retreat and relax in comfortable hay when they want a moment alone, or shelter from adverse weather.
How do your farmed pigs socialise?
Along with using our runs and enjoying our showers together, you’ll often see our farmed pigs moving in groups. It’s impossible for them to be lonely. From what we’ve seen, they prefer to be in herds with no more than 40 - 50 pigs, wherein they can build their own hierarchy and establish a leader. Of course, these groups are successful as well because we have such a mixture of environments for them to live in. It’s not hard for them to get some space when they need to, so they all feel relaxed and secure here.
What would you say to a farmer who's nervous about transitioning to a higher animal welfare farming model?
I would say that the more people care about their animals’ lives, the better. Following high animal welfare standards is the only humane way to work with animals, and it’s critical we respect them. You can make a profit, too, by farming at a smaller scale - on our farm, we use the power of local connections to exist very comfortably next to the global market.
We love higher animal welfare principles, and they work. We can see it in our pigs who are healthy, happy, and thriving, which also makes it a pleasure for us to work with them. We think an important step in the road ahead is consumer transparency. People increasingly care about animals and want to ensure their animal-derived products come from sources where high animal welfare standards are set. In Poland, we’re trying to implement such a standard for pork called ‘Pstra Wybiegana’. It’s based on a system of digital transparency, which shows consumers that we take the best care of our pigs at every step of the production chain. Farmers and clients can both use the system to record and find out more about the origins of their pork. We believe this will be some kind of revolution in Poland, and will encourage consumers even more to think of animal welfare when they shop.
It’s critical the European Commission considers all farmed species in their revision to the animal welfare legislation, making sure to leave no animal behind.