Pilot projects to promote animal welfare
Aside from Naturaplan and Naturafarm, our commitment to the well-being of animals is expressed through various pioneering projects. Here are a few current examples:
Dual-purpose chicken: eggs from the hen, meat from the cockerel
Each year, around 2 million male chicks from laying hen rearing programmes are killed because they are not suitable for fattening and don't lay eggs. Because of this, at the start of 2014 we launched a field trial at some of our organic farms to test whether a new breed of chicken is suitable as so-called dual-purpose chickens. The female chickens are used for egg production and the males for fattening. Following a promising initial phase involving 5‘000 animals, we launched the second round in September 2014.
Promoting young boar fattening – Without castration
At present, we are supporting a research project on the rearing and feeding of piglets. Our goal is to eliminate the need to castrate male piglets, allowing them to grow more naturally. Male piglets are usually castrated a few days after they are born to prevent the meat from being affected by «boar taint». Under Naturafarm, we are preventing boar taint by using the animal-friendly vaccine method, the only such programme in Switzerland to do so.
In addition, as part of this project young boars are being fattened on Naturafarm pilot farms entirely without castration or vaccination. We have already succeeded in reducing the percentage of animals with boar tint to less than 5 percent. Our goal is to gather experience together with scientists and the livestock trade and meat processing industries to establish a method that does not involve surgical intervention.
High-quality beef from the Baltic
Instead of having premium steaks flow in from Latin America 12’000 kilometres away, we have established grassland-based operations in the Baltic states. In this way, we can also reduce CO2 emissions.
Since the outset, our project has been guided by the most resource-conserving and animal-friendly standard - suckler cow husbandry. The young animals have access to the extensive meadows and drink lots of milk from the udder during the first half of their lives. So that the meat satisfies the highest quality standards, thereafter their diet chiefly consists of the abundant grass and other roughage. Limited use is made of concentrated feed. We launched the project in 2012, together with the local farmers' organizations, and it will run until 2019 at least.
Animal welfare in fish farming
As an alternative to wild-caught fish, fish farming in aquacultures is currently experiencing something of a boom. However, we as yet know little about the requirements for humane fish farming, such as the appropriate number of fish in the tank to ensure the well-being of a schooling fish?
Therefore, we have commissioned a study from Swiss Animal Protection (SAP). The study assessed aquacultures for edible fish from an animal protection perspective and highlighted potential problem areas, opportunities and risks. Based on the findings, together with SAP we are now reviewing our range and will take measures as 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’ well-being 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’ well-being. 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.