Pilot projects to improve animal welfare
In addition to Naturaplan and Naturafarm, we are involved in various pioneering projects aiming to improve animal welfare. Here are a few current examples.
The dual-purpose chicken: eggs from the female, meat from the male bird
Every year in Switzerland, around two million male chicks from laying hens farming are killed because they neither lay eggs nor do they produce enough meat to make them suitable for fattening. Because of this, we started a field experiment at the beginning of 2014 on several organic farms to test whether a new breed is suitable as a dual-purpose chicken. The female birds are used to produce eggs, and the male birds are fattened for meat. After a promising start involving 5,000 animals, we launched a second round in September 2014.
Promoting the fattening of young boars – without castration
Through the Coop Sustainability Fund, we are currently supporting a research project into the rearing and feeding of piglets. It is our goal to avoid the castration of male piglets, allowing them to grow up in a more natural way. Piglets are routinely castrated a few days after birth so that the meat does not acquire the unpleasant boar taint. In the only programme of its kind in Switzerland, we make it possible under the Naturafarm label to prevent the development of this unpleasant smell by using an animal-friendly vaccination. Within the framework of this project, we are also rearing some young boars on Naturafarm pilot farms without resorting to either castration or vaccination. Here we have already succeeded in reducing the proportion of animals showing signs of boar taint to less than five per cent. In collaboration with scientists, livestock dealers and the processing industry, we aim to collate our experience in order to establish boar fattening as the most natural means of meat-rearing.
High-quality beef from the Baltic region
Instead of flying in premium beef carcasses from Latin America, some 12,000 kilometres away, we have established farms rearing beef on grassland in the Baltic region. This also enables us to reduce CO2 emissions.
From the very beginning, our project has been set up to minimize the use of resources and comply with the most animal-friendly standards – according to the principles of suckler cow husbandry. The beef cattle have access to extensive pastures and drink plenty of their mothers’ milk in the first half of their lives. After that, the young animals feed mainly on the lush grass available and on other roughage so that the meat meets the highest quality standards. Concentrated feed is used only to a limited extent. We launched this project in 2012 in collaboration with local farmers’ organizations. It will certainly run until at least 2019.
Animal welfare in fish farming
Fish farming in aquacultures is booming at the moment as an alternative to wild fishing. However, we still know relatively little about standards for animal-friendly fish farming. For example, how big can a shoal of fish in a pool become before fish welfare suffers? We thus commissioned SAP to conduct a study into this. In the study, aquacultures for fish used as food were evaluated from an animal welfare point of view, pointing out potential problems, opportunities and risks. Drawing on the results, we are now in the process of examining our product range in conjunction with SAP and are introducing appropriate measures to improve fish welfare, where necessary.
Fewer antibiotics in calf rearing
In Switzerland, many calves leave the farm where they were born at the age of around four to five weeks to be reared on a specialized veal farm. This is also the case for many Naturafarm calves.
However, the health of the calves is often impaired when they arrive at the veal farm. On the one hand, the care they receive at the farm where they are born is not always the best. On the other hand, the young animals often come into contact with germs from other farms during transport and in holding pens, to which they are not immune. This is less than ideal for the animals’ wellbeing and requires treatment with antibiotics.
Preliminary trials have shown that the calves’ health can be greatly improved through good animal husbandry conditions at the farm where they are born. These include, for example, a prompt supply of good-quality maternal milk, an adequate supply of iron, and vaccination against respiratory diseases. Direct transport to the veal farm also greatly reduces the young animals’ susceptibility to disease. Thanks to the implementation of these measures, vets have been able to halve the amount of antibiotics used.
We therefore do everything we can to continue improving the conditions on the birth farms and during transport of the calves. In a broad-based project we will test the results of the preliminary trials in 2017. Our project aims to reduce the use of antibiotics and the risk of resistant germs so as to improve the animals’ wellbeing. We will continue to do everything we can to avoid animals becoming ill – but if this does happen, effective drugs will be needed in future too. If the project is successful we will be able to integrate the measures into the Naturafarm guidelines.