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Poultry and PIg Low-input and Organic production systems’ Welfare

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - PPILOW (Poultry and PIg Low-input and Organic production systems’ Welfare)

Reporting period: 2022-09-01 to 2023-08-31

PPILOW is a multiactor project aiming to co-create with end-users innovations for improving the welfare of pigs and poultry in low-input outdoor and organic farming systems. The PPILOW participatory approach involves National Practitioner Groups (NPG) in co-building innovative breeding and rearing strategies and techniques on this purpose. Firstly, the project gathers a comprehensive inventory of the ethical, socio-economic and technical factors that are essential to improve poultry and pig welfare in organic and low-input outdoor production systems, providing a shortlist of potential levers of improvement. The NPGs also co-build and test with PPILOW partners mobile applications for assessing and benchmarking animal welfare status on-farm, and tools for evaluating the sustainability of the tested lever based on the One Welfare concept. The first strategy studied focuses on enrichments allowing keeping laying hens and fattening pigs in organic and low-input systems without beak trimming and castration, currently applied to prevent feather pecking and boar taint in meat in laying hens and in pigs, respectively. The second explores two strategies to avoid killing day-old layer male chicks: raising dual-purpose breeds for both egg and meat productions and developing a new in ovo sexing method. The PPILOW project also aims to propose innovative solutions for favouring positive behaviours, health and robustness through an increased adaptation to organic and outdoor systems for laying hens, slow-growing broilers and pigs. The most promising strategies are evaluated through multicriteria analyses according to the One Welfare concept, and business models are developed. Finally, PPILOW disseminates results widely and facilitates the changes of practices by interacting with the different production chain actors and policy makers at national and European levels.
PPILOW partners organized the participatory approach by setting-up nine NPG dedicated to pig or poultry in six countries. The NPG identified barriers to welfare and levers for improvement, and co-created with partners shared tools and strategies for improving animal welfare to be tested experimentally and on-field. The inventory of barriers to welfare and levers for improvement was built-up from focus groups of practitioners, citizens and EU policy makers, and from surveys for practitioners and consumers. A first economic study evaluated the potential economic impacts of the most promising levers of welfare improvement in pigs, broilers and laying hens.
Standardized mobile apps for farmers to self-assess and benchmark on-farm the welfare status of the animals were co-developed (PIGLOW® for pigs) or refined (EBENE® for poultry) with NPG, and made EU-freely available in 9 and 7 European languages, respectively. They are currently being evaluated in longitudinal on-farm studies. Meanwhile, the creation of a data collection framework based on the One Welfare approach centered on both human and animal welfare has been co-created with NPG. Studies on alternatives, on the one hand to beak trimming using innovative incubation and insect larvae enrichment in laying hens (NL, BE), and on the other hand to piglet castration (FR), have been completed and show the interest of enrichments to manage these animals. For finding alternatives to the elimination of layer male chicks, three experimental trials are comparing dual-purpose genotypes (DK, DE, FR). The one completed on both males and females in DK showed a high variability of technical performance between genotypes, due to different strategy for crosses, exhibiting less or high layer or meat potentials, and the egg quality results for the different crosses were assessed. On-farm trials in the three countries enable the multicriteria evaluation of the use of male genotypes, and the field studies on females are almost finished. Concerning in ovo sexing, refinements on methodologies for electrophysical sensing have been assessed and sex-biomarkers are currently identified in different egg structures. Finally, studies with different broiler genotypes (FR, IT) have allowed a better understanding of the determinants of ranging behavior, and its consequences on chicken performance and adaptability. The use of early management levers for improving resilience is currently analysed (NL, FR, BE), including the experimental use of temperature variations during incubation, and the test of on-farm hatching with NPG members. Partners working with layers (DK) and pigs (RO) are developing strategies to limit intestinal parasitic and bacterial infections through different feed supplements, based both on in vitro and in vivo studies. Interesting effects of plants to limit worm infections in vitro are currently tested in Romanian pig farms. Joint protocols are developed and implemented in FR and DK to improve the sow welfare and piglet survival through selective breeding (FR) and innovation within farrowing house design for outdoor rearing of sows and piglets (DK). These innovative devices are currently tested in FR, BE and IT in pig NPG members’ farms, with a close follow-up by NPG facilitator partners. PPILOW developed online tools, released magazine articles and interviews for communicating on its activities and results, and co-organized the joint online conference “Improving Sustainability and Welfare in Organic Poultry and Pig production” with other EU projects, a workshop at the 2021 Organic World Congress and dedicated sessions at the World Poultry Conference 2022 and EAAP meeting 2023, together with the organization of technical days and the release of factsheets and practice abstracts.
The PPILOW project has generated novel information on how to improve animal welfare in organic and low-input pig and poultry farms. Key informant interviews pointed out obvious differences between countries in the challenges these farms face, but results also indicated shared challenges and solutions such as those related to feeding, weather, injuries, lack of expression of natural behaviours, biosecurity, and range management. Industry members and consumers in all countries indicated a high level of support for animal welfare, but there is often a lack of consensus as to what constitutes best practice regarding the variety of activities in the different production systems. The NPG members contributed to co-build the PIGLOW and EBENE apps, the first truly optimized apps for evaluating animal welfare by the farmers themselves, now available for European practitioners. NPG are also co-creating a global framework based on the One Welfare approach for the assessment of welfare-improving strategies, including not only animal, but also human welfare when evaluating these strategies. The preliminary results of the laying hen trial for avoiding feather pecking, the use of dual-purpose breeds, fermented plant extracts, on-farm hatching and innovative farrowing huts have already aroused the interest of NPG members who are participating to PPILOW on-farm studies, for solving concretely important challenges in poultry and pig low-input and organic systems. The feedbacks to practitioners on the impacts of the proposed levers for welfare improvement have begun with trainings and active dissemination of the project results towards practitioners, policy makers, consumers and citizens in tight connection with the project National Practitioner Groups.
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