THE welfare of pigs is paramount for the British pig industry, which takes a proactive approach to animal welfare improvement, writes Miriam Drewett, Marketing Communications Manager at AHDB.

To ensure pig producers meet regulations and the UK's high standards, the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) works closely with the pig industry, vets, government departments, universities and allied industry organisations to assess, monitor and promote the welfare of pigs throughout their production life on farm, during transport and at slaughter.

On-farm assessments: A major part of this revolves around the Real Welfare scheme. This involves on-farm assessments of pigs by specially trained vets, who routinely assess four welfare measures on pigs over 50 kg. The fifth measure, environmental enrichment, is optional, although the type of enrichment found in pens must be recorded.

Welfare measures assessed are hospital pigs (pigs that would benefit from removal to a hospital pen); lameness; tail damage; body marks; and environmental enrichment use.

Following extensive work by researchers at the University of Bristol, University of Newcastle and the RSPCA, the Real Welfare scheme was launched as a requirement of Red Tractor Farm Assurance in 2013, and QMS Pigs Farm Assurance in 2016.

The latest data from the Real Welfare scheme, presented in a new report from the AHDB, show that the vast majority of pig farms continue to have good levels of welfare, and the sector, as a whole, shows continuous improvements are being made.

The data also confirm a slightly increasing trend for the enrichment use and that where welfare issues are found during an assessment, they are localised and not uniform across a farm. The welfare measure with the lowest recorded prevalence was pigs requiring hospitalisation (0.05 per cent of pigs), and the measure with the highest prevalence was severe body marks (0.18 per cent of pigs).

Dr Mandy Nevel, AHDB Head of Animal Health and Welfare, said: “This assessment of Real Welfare outcomes shows the scheme provides a positive impact, especially in providing good support to decrease lameness, severe body marks and improve hospital pen management.

“It also continues to build on the partnership between farmers and veterinary surgeons, providing an excellent basis from which to drive, and evidence, the British pig industry’s commitment and achievements in continuous improvement in pig welfare.”

More than 13 million pigs have been individually assessed to provide this credible and benchmarked level of welfare, which has created the biggest database of its kind anywhere in the world. Visit AHDB’s website for the latest data and information about the Real Welfare scheme at

Moving and handling pigs: Another area AHDB has been focusing on recently, working closely with key stakeholders, including the National Pig Association (NPA), Red Tractor and the Pig Veterinary Society, is the moving and handling of pigs. They have collated resources and guidance to help producers and stockpeople review and refresh the way they move and handle pigs, and have developed a web page to provide producers and stockpeople with an in-depth understanding of why pigs behave in certain ways, how they respond to humans and how to handle them effectively.

Dr Nevel said: “Good handling of pigs is critical for everyone in the supply chain and I encourage people to take the time to look at our website and watch the practical videos we share.

“And, remember, maintaining high standards not only improves pig welfare, but it also affects performance, carcase quality and staff morale.”

AHDB is also developing a training module that anyone involved in moving and handling pigs can take. The training will be hosted online and will provide farmers with a blended approach to learning and upskilling. The plan is to roll it out from April 2021, and Red Tractor is currently consulting on making it a mandatory part of their pig standards.

Dr Georgina Crayford, Red Tractor Technical Manager for Pigs, said: “The Red Tractor logo gives reassurance to consumers that the animals have been farmed with care. Considerate handling of pigs is a big part of that. That’s why we’re seeking to support the uptake of this valuable training by making it a requirement of the pig standards.”

Visit AHDB’s website to access the resources at