Promoting Welfare through Proper Animal Nutrition

GLOBAL - Animal welfare includes the combination of both physical and mental well-being, according to a new report from FAO. A properly balanced diet and water supplied in adequate amounts avoid physical and psychological suffering from hunger and thirst; furthermore, correct nutrition is crucial for optimal performance and to sustain optimal fitness.
calendar icon 21 December 2012
clock icon 4 minute read

An expert meeting held in September last year in Rome reviewed the impact of animal nutrition on animal welfare. For both ruminant and monogastric species, the experts identified:

  • feeding options for different livestock production systems (extensive, mixed crop-livestock, and intensive) that improve animal welfare while increasing profitability of the livestock producers and ensuring safety and quality through the food chain, and
  • challenges and opportunities to enhance animal welfare through animal feeding approaches.

In addition, guidelines and policy options promoting sustainable animal feeding that enhance animal welfare, animal productivity, animal product quality and profitability were formulated.

In extensive production systems, the major challenge identified is the supply of adequate nutrients year-round despite climatic variation.

In mixed-crop production systems, the challenge is to better integrate the nutrient management of crop and animal production enterprises within the system, to be relatively self-sufficient and reduce dependence on external inputs.

In intensive production systems, the highly specialized genotypes and diet formulation approaches, and the large scale of operation, mean that the nutritional welfare of the animals is best safeguarded when expert nutritionists are involved in diet formulation. Feeding to sustain high production levels can lead to metabolic disorders in ruminants, whilst breeding animals of monogastric species which are restrict-fed to optimise health and production may suffer from chronic hunger.

A number of opportunities and challenges to enhance animal welfare through animal feeding approaches were identified. In ruminant species, welfare assessment could be improved by development of better integrated and more robust welfare measures. Preventing undesirable competitive behavior requires appropriate group composition and facility design. Maintaining appropriate nutrient balance involves avoiding excessive mobilization of body reserves for high production, preventing rumen acidosis by appropriate diet formulation, and providing mineral as well as protein supplements to remedy imbalances in extensive conditions.

Correct nutrition can reduce infectious afflictions by enhancing cell-tissue integrity and optimising defence mechanisms of the immune system. Toxicity issues associated with ingested herbage can be reduced by better management of grazing lands, training animals to avoid poisonous plants and use of medicines in supplements to counteract their negative effects. Parasite control can be aided by appropriate host nutrition, particularly adequate metabolisable protein nutrition, and regular use of anti-parasitic drugs. To reduce morbidity and mortality in young stock, adequate provision of colostrum at birth and adequate supply of milk replacer until weaning age is essential to ensure proper immune protection.

In monogastric species, the greatest challenge involves understanding and dealing with chronic hunger, which can arise from the absence of sufficient feed in subsistence systems, the deliberate restriction of feed for breeding animals in intensive systems, and the possibility of nutrient specific hungers arising from imbalances between the diet supplied and the metabolic needs of the animal. There is also scope for better matching of diets to nutritional needs through improved knowledge of the nutrient requirements of animals in different situations, and particularly of local breeds of livestock used in more extensive systems. In improved breeds, there are nutritional opportunities to mitigate the effects of problems associated with genetically induced fast growth and the partitioning of nutrients to production functions.

The development of more sustainable nutritional strategies requires consideration of the use of nutritional approaches to address other societal goals including the supply of food which is both safe and nutritious to humans whilst generating low environmental impact from production systems. Furthermore, there is a challenge in implementing knowledge and socio-economically applicable solutions in the field by promoting effective dissemination and motivating uptake of good practice.

In terms of policy, it is important to emphasise that welfare recommendations need to go hand-in-hand with profitability, according to the FAO report.

Some proposed practices aimed at improving welfare might reduce levels of profitability. On the other hand, some interventions will increase the profitability, and these should be given priority.

In addressing the opportunities and challenges to promote welfare of animals through better nutrition, there is a need for integrated efforts from governments, inter-government organisations, professional bodies, scientists, extension workers and industries to support the implementation of good practice by the farmers themselves. In many cases, although not all, nutritional approaches which improve animal welfare will also improve productivity, product quality and hence profitability.

Most importantly, there should be a concerted effort of scientists, politicians, farmers and food-chain industry to develop and validate indicators, in order to allow an international endorsement of specific acceptable minimum welfare standards related to nutrition.

Social knowledge about responsible farming practices that consider longevity, long-term performance, and overall life-cycle should be improved.

FAO concludes that showing and promoting the positive relationship between animal welfare and production with respect to good nutritional programmes should be fostered through farm programmes and extension services.

Further Reading

You can view the full report by clicking here.

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