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

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - PPILOW (Poultry and PIg Low-input and Organic production systems’ Welfare)

Reporting period: 2019-09-01 to 2021-02-28

The PPILOW project 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 for improving the welfare of pigs and poultry in these production systems. Firstly, the project aims to gather a comprehensive inventory of the ethical, socio-economic and technical factors that are essential to improve poultry and pigs welfare in organic and low-input outdoor production systems. This action will shortlist measures that have the potential to improve poultry and pig welfare. The NPG also co-build and test with PPILOW partners standardized mobile applications for assessing and benchmarking animal welfare status on-farm, and tools for evaluating the sustainability of the tested lever in organic and low input production systems based on the One Welfare concept. Several strategies are foreseen for improving pig and poultry welfare. The first one focuses on the challenge of keeping laying hens and fattening pigs in organic and low-input systems without applying beak trimming and castration, that are currently applied to prevent feather pecking and cannibalism in laying hens, and for preventing boar taint in meat and behavioural problems in pigs, respectively. The second explores two strategies to avoid the killing of day-old layer male chicks to ensure the sustainability in free-range and organic poultry production: raising dual-purpose breeds for both egg and meat production 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 will be evaluated through multicriteria analyses according to the One Welfare concept, and business models will be built. Finally, PPILOW will disseminate results widely and facilitate the changes of practices by interacting with the 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. They contributed to identify barriers to welfare and levers for improvement, and co-created with the PPILOW partners shared tools and strategies for improving animal welfare to be tested experimentally and on-field. A first inventory of barriers to welfare and levers for improvement was built-up, and partners collected the opinions from 26 focus groups of farmers, citizens, processors of livestock products, retailers (UK, FI, FR, BE, IT, RO), and EU policy makers on welfare issues and potential solutions in these systems. 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. Both apps are now freely available in App stores in English, Dutch and French. They are currently being evaluated in longitudinal on-farm studies in pig farms. Meanwhile, the creation of a global framework based on the One Welfare approach centered on both human and animal welfare is almost complete. This includes a multi-criteria (economic, social and environmental) assessment of welfare improving strategies, for which one framework per production type is discussed with NPG. Alternatives to beak trimming using innovative incubation and insect larvae enrichment processes in laying hens, and to piglet castration, are under study. First results indicate that birds with enrichment showed more foraging behaviour and were less fearful towards humans (NL, BE). Two trials are prepared in research facilities and on-farm, to provide information regarding the role of the genotype, age and weight at slaughter and the diet and housing conditions on the occurrence of boar taint in slaughter pigs (FR). For finding alternatives to the elimination of day-old 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. Concerning in ovo sexing, refinements on methodologies for electrophysical sensing have been assessed. Finally, innovations for favouring positive behaviours, health and robustness by increasing adaptation to organic and outdoor systems for laying hens, slow-growing broilers and pigs are explored. Studies with different broiler genotypes (FR, IT) have allowed a better understanding of the determinants of exploratory behavior. Partners working with layers (DK) and pigs (RO) are developing strategies to limit intestinal parasitic and bacterial infections through different feed supplements. In infected layers, the effect of a feed based on fermented products has been tested. Microbiological, immunological and parasitic profiles were obtained in pigs, and in vitro methods for the screening of plant extracts have been established. 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). 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 3 other EU projects.
The PPILOW project has already 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 challenges these farms face, but results also indicated shared challenges and solutions such as those relating to feeding, weather, injuries, lack of expression, 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, for the first time truly optimized apps for the 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 and innovative farrowing huts have already aroused the interest of NPG members who are ready to participate to PPILOW on farm studies, for solving concretely important challenges in poultry and pig low-input and organic systems. The impacts of the proposed levers for welfare improvement will be ensured by trainings and active dissemination of the project results towards practitioners, policy makers, consumers and citizens in tight connection with the NPG.