Interpretation of the OIE General Principles for Animal Welfare for Livestock and Poultry Production

By Temple Grandin
Dept of Animal Science
Colorado State University


The OlE (2013) has published general principles for the welfare of animals in livestock production systems in Article 7.1.4. This guidance document covers farm production units (Fraser et al., 2013). There are other older OIE guidelines that cover transport, slaughter, and depopulation for disease control. Below the author will provide specific examples of how the OIE (2013) guidelines for animal production on the farm can be used. At that time of writing, the OIE still had no specific guidelines and assessments for the production of pigs, dairy cattle, and laying hens. These three types of animals have more complex and contentious welfare issues related to the design of housing systems than fish, beef cattle or broiler chickens. Since the issues are more complex, it will probably be more difficult for all the countries in the OIE to agree on an international guideline. This may explain why guidelines for raising beef cattle, broiler chickens, and fish were developed first. The author will provide opinions on how the OIE guidelines could be interpreted. The reader must remember that OIE guidelines are designed to provide guidance in many different countries where there is a great variety of conditions.

1. "Genetic selection should always take into account the health and welfare of animals." (OIE, 2013)

This is an area of concern by many scientists (Rodenbury and Turner, 2012). Some of the severe welfare problems caused by indiscriminant selection for productivity are: high percentages of broken bones due to osteoporosis in laying hens (Wilkins, et al., 2011), Iameness and leg abnormalities in rapidly growing broiler chickens (Caplen et al., 2012), decreased disease resistance in modern hybrid pigs (Jiang et al., 2013), loss of parasite resistance in sheep (Greer, 2008) and reproduction problems in dairy cows correlated with increased milk production (Spencer, 2013) Further research has shown that high producing cows have lower body condition, high percentage of lame cows, and thinner fat pads in their feet (Green et al., 2011; VonKeyserlingh et al., 2012). Walsh et al. (2010) reported that negative energy balance is a major factor in low dairy cow fertility. Negative energy balance occurs when a high producing dairy cow is not able to eat enough nutrients to prevent loss of body condition. The author refers to these problems as biological system overload. In the future, they may cause some of the most severe animal welfare problems (Grandin and Deesing, 2013). It is interesting that the OIE listed the genetic problems first. People from developing countries who are on the OIE committees may have observed both welfare and production problems when modern high producing hybrids were first introduced to their countries. They were more likely to get sick or die under more primitive conditions. Rodenbury and Turner (2012) are concerned about loss of functionality and welfare problems on animals genetically selected to produce more eggs, milk, or meat. Both scientists and some producers have stated that we need to determine what optimum production is and still have reasonable levels of disease resistance and longevity.

2. "Animals chosen for introduction into new environments should be suited to the local climate and able to adapt to diseases, parasites, and nutrition." (OIE, 2013)

Some problem areas would be high producing Holstein dairy cows housed in a very hot climate and not provided with artificial cooling. A good alternative would be crossing hardy local cattle with Holsteins to increase milk production but still remain sufficient heat tolerance to prevent heat stress (Galukandu et al., 2013). It is important that indigenous hardy local breeds are preserved (Yilmaz et al., 2013). Vordermeier et al. (2012) reports that Ethiopia native Zebu cattle were more resistant to tuberculosis than imported Holstein-Friesian dairy cows. To avoid either welfare or productivity problems, animals bred for high meat, egg or milk production usually require higher inputs of both expensive feeds (Thatcher et al., 2011) and environmentally controlled facilities.

3. "The physical environment, including the substrate (walking surface, resting surface, etc.) should be suited to the species so as to minimize risk of injury and transmission of diseases and parasites to animals." (OIE, 2013)

The trend in animal welfare assessments is to use animal based outcome measures (Wray et al., 2003, 2007; Velarde and Dalmau, 2013). The main outcome measures for welfare problems under this guideline would be high percentages of animals with the following problems ó lameness, dirty animals, leg injuries/swellings, hoof disease, foot pad lesions hock burn and breast blisters in poultry and areas of worn off fur or feathers. Some examples of housing that would be more likely to cause the above problems would be: slatted floors with the wrong slat spacing (Kilbride et al., 2009), cubicles (freestalls) for dairy cows that are too small, housing heavy cattle on bare concrete for long periods, feedlots for beef cattle with deep mud, wet dirty litter in poultry barns, damaged flooring, sharp edges on fences or failure to rotate pastures in wet climates. Some examples of good environments would be providing sufficient bedding to prevent soil from transferring onto the animals, plastic or rubber flooring that prevents injuries or daily access to dry outdoor lots or pasture (Flowers et al., 2007).

4. "The physical environment should allow comfortable resting, safe and comfortable movement including normal postural changes and the opportunity to perform types of natural behaviors that animals are motivated to perform." (OIE, 2013)

The first requirement to be in compliance would be that the animals should be able to turn around and stand and lie in normal positions. This guideline cover the most controversial animal welfare issue. Fraser et al. (2013) in their discussion of application of this section did not address the issue of sow gestation stalls where sows are not able to turn around and small hen cages which prevent a hen from standing at full posture. Fraser et al. (2013) did present strong evidence on the need to provide for behavior needs such as nest building in hens. They made it very clear that hens need to be able to have a place to perch and have a nesting area. It is the authorís opinion that the following systems would be in non-compliance with this guideline - sow gestation stalls which prevent a sow from turning around and small battery cages for laying hens that prevent a hen from standing in a normal upright position with her head up. Group sow housing and enriched furnished cages would be in compliance. A well-designed furnished cage provides both a secluded nest box and a perch (Tactacan et al., 2009). Hens are highly motivated to use a nest box. It also has a high enough ceiling to allow normal walking posture. Pigs are motivated to manipulate and root things with their nose (Van de Weerd and Day, 2009). They should be given either straw, other fibrous bedding material or specially designed rooting objects. Dairy cubicles should be sufficiently wide so that a cow is able to lie with her head in a normal curled back position (and not damage her legs on the rear concrete curb (Fulwider et al., 2007). Intensive housing facilities for all species should be stocked so that all animals or birds have the ability to sleep at the same time without being on top of each other. All of the above are bare minimum requirement.

5. "Social regrouping of animals should be managed to allow positive social behavior and minimize injury distress and chronic fear." (OIE, 2013)

Farm animals and poultry are social and being reared alone or in individual stalls does not allow normal social behavior. On dairies, young calves are often reared in individual stalls for disease control purposes. It is the authorís opinion that for a minimum compliance with this guideline, dairy calves should be housed in groups after six weeks. Sows in gestation stalls would not comply with this standard. There are differences in pig genetics in aggression (díEath et al., 2009). Practical experience has shown that certain hybrid lines of domestic pigs will fight aggressively when mixed. To make a successful switch from gestation stalls to group housing may require a change in pig genetics. For all species, when strange animals are mixed, they should be simultaneously placed in a new pen or pasture to avoid the problem of having another animal invading a resident animalís territory. Small groups of five or six pigs mixed in a small pen may fight more than mixing larger groups. Therefore, small groups of five or six sows are usually kept in the same group for their entire productive life. In larger pens filled with many more animals, an animal that is being attacked has room to escape. Another contentious issue is tie stalls for dairy cattle. These systems are common in many countries and dairy cows housed in these facilities usually do not have abnormal behavior. It is the authorís opinion that dairy cows housed in tie stalls should be let out every day to either pasture or an outdoor lot. The only exception to this recommendation would be severe seasonal weather conditions.

6. "For housed animals, air quality, temperature and humidity should support good animal health and not be aversive. Where extreme conditions occur, animals should not be prevented from using natural methods of thermo-regulation." (OIE, 2013)

Outcome based indicators of environmental problems would be high percentages of animals with eye problems such as conjunctivitis (OIE broiler guideline, 2013), open mouth panting in response to heat stress (Mader et al., 2006), shivering or huddling in response to cold stress or death losses. Research shows that during the summer, providing shade for feedlot cattle improves productivity (Barajas et al., 2013). Black Angus cattle had higher reductions in respiration rate when provided with shade than light tan Charolais cattle (Brown-Brandi et al., 2013). Black cattle have hotter surface temperature compared to breeds with lighter colored coats. High ammonia levels are aversive to poultry and sheep (Phillips et al., 2012). For both human and animal welfare, ammonia levels should not exceed 25 ppm in any type of animal facility. People reported more symptoms of headaches or eye discomfort at 25 ppm compared to 5 ppm or 0 ppm of ammonia (Sundblad et al., 2014). Ammonia should be measured at the level of the animals. On farms where intensively housed animals are l completely dependent on mechanical ventilation to prevent heat stress or suffocation deaths, either a back-up generator or a method for opening the building sides is required. In buildings with natural ventilation, this is not required. In cold climates, cold stress can often be prevented with windbreaks, deep straw or shelter (Anderson, et al., 2011). Heat stress or cold stress may also be deadly to animals when un-acclimated animals are brought to an area with a different climate. An example of death losses due to a lack of acclimation would be bringing cattle with slick summer coats to a cold climate. If these same cattle had been brought in earlier in the season and been given the opportunity to grow a winter coat before the weather got really cold, they may have be fine. Breeds of animals that originate from the tropics may have problems with cold stress in colder climates. Animal breeds (Holstein dairy cows) developed in colder climates may have more problems with heat stress in hot climates. Breeds that developed in the tropics have greater ability to lose heat. In all animals, several days or weeks are required for the animalís metabolism to adapt and acclimatize to a change in temperature (Roy and Collier, 2011).

7. "Animals should have access to sufficient feed and water suited to the animalís age and needs to maintain normal health and productivity and to prevent prolonged hunger, thirst or dehydration." (OIE, 2013)

This is one area where exclusive use of outcome measurements would be detrimental to welfare because a severe lack of feed or water may result in a slow stressful death. Ideally there should be sufficient feeder space so all birds or animals can all eat at the same time. Less feeder space can be provided if feed is always available. Outcome measures that indicate problems with access to feed may be several animals that become thin with poor body condition. These animals became skinny because they are pushed away from the feeder by dominant aggressive animals. Sufficient water supplies must be available to supply animals on the hottest days. In many animals, water requirements may double during hot weather (Arias and Mader, 2011). Beta-agonists fed at high doses may also violate the above principle. Loneragan et al. (2014) found that beta-agonists fed during the summer increased death losses in cattle.

8. "Diseases and parasites should be prevented and controlled as much as possible through good management practices. Animals with serious health problems should be isolated and treated promptly or killed humanely if treatment is not feasible or recovery is unlikely." (OIE, 2013)

Examples of outcome measure for this guideline would be health records that keep track of the percentages of sick animals, poor body condition or animals that have high levels of internal or external parasites. Poor condition of the hair coat or areas of hair loss are often signs of external parasites. In some organic or natural programs which require absolutely no use of antibiotics or other medications the producer may be tempted to withhold treatment of a sick animal. This is not acceptable from an animal welfare standpoint. Animal production is rapidly expanding in the developing world. There is a great need to train animal caretakers in basic husbandry because some people do not have basic knowledge of simple clinical signs of disease. In one recent bad case, caretakers did not know that coughing cattle are sick. Bald spots on animals due to hair loss from external parasites or scratching are also not acceptable.

9. "When painful procedures cannot be avoided, the resulting pain should be managed to the extent possible that available methods allow." (OIE, 2013)

Animals definitely perceive pain and research supports the use of anesthetics and analgesics (Coetzee, 2011, 2013; Stafford and Mellor, 2011). In areas of the world where pain relief is not available, castration and dehorning should be done at a young age. There are some difficult ethical questions in poor countries where antibiotics and anesthetics are not available for people. If l was the mother of a sick child I would probably steal antibiotics from a pig farm to save my child. When a big corporation starts a pig or poultry farm in a developing country, the animals may have better access to health care than the people. It is the authorís opinion that countries with poor access to health care, large corporations should insure that their employees also have access to essential medications.

10. "Owners and handlers should have sufficient skill and knowledge to insure that animals are treated in accordance with these principles." (OIE, 2013)

The importance of management commitment to good animal welfare cannot be over emphasized. Often people want to buy the magic new technology because they mistakenly believe that it will solve all their problems. Technology is NEVER a substitute for good management. It is possible to have a high level of animal welfare in very simple facilities. People working with animals must be trained in animal behavior, health, and welfare.

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