Evaluation of a simplified herd health and welfare index for benchmarking in pig herds
OBJECTIVE:Animal welfare is a topic of increasing public interest, especially interventions for improving the welfare of food-producing animals are demanded. The Herd Health and Welfare Index (HHWI) was developed for the EU-research project "EFFORT" (Ecology from Farm to Fork Of microbial drug Resistance and Transmission) to measure health and welfare without interfering with the daily work of farmers. As improving welfare by increasing animal health can contribute to the reduction of antimicrobial usage, it is of great importance to measure the quality of welfare and health of pig herds as precondition for implementing improvement measures. MATERIAL AND METHODS:The HHWI was tested under field conditions by assessing 20 German pig herds. The results were used for benchmarking to encourage continuous improvement. To test a future field of application, the HHWI results (HHWI points: minimum 10 points [very good] to maximum 30 points [very bad]) were compared to the amount of antimicrobial substances in the study herds measured by the Antimicrobial Treatment Index (ATI). RESULTS:The HHWI points of the study herds ranged from 11 to 25. When comparing the HHWI with data of antimicrobial treatments (measured by the ATI) no strong association could be shown. CONCLUSIONS:The preliminary data indicate that the HHWI cannot be statistically related to antimicrobial usage in the field. The number of risk factors for a higher antimicrobial use that are not directly linked to health and welfare parameters is so high that the theoretical influence of the welfare and health status is masked by the influence of many factors (the farmer's attitude, routine usage, group treatments). But preliminary results show a potential to use the index to measure the outcome of interventions within one herd. CLINICAL RELEVANCE:The HHWI is an easy-to-use measuring tool to evaluate animal health and welfare. It can help to increase the continuity of monitoring results of health and welfare at herd level. In the long term, the HHWI could be used for regional or national assessments that could help to identify pig herds that are in need of improvement of their health and welfare status in order to increase the overall life quality of pigs in these herds.