OneWelPig Project

Miserable existence

The majority of the 1.7 million pigs in Ireland endure miserable lives confined in an unnatural environment with no stimuli. There are very few free range farms and they are all small scale meaning it is generally not possible to find any free range produce in supermarkets. Whilst Irish pork produce is mostly Bord Bia Approved, the standard just replicates the EC Pig Directive which is wholly inadequate and not fully enforced.

Positive changes ahead

However, it’s not all bad news for Irish pigs. First of all the End the Cage Age Citizens’ Initiative started by UK based charity Compassion in World Farming was successfully adopted by European Parliament which could mean the end of sow stalls and farrowing crates, in which sows are confined for a large portion of their lives. The European Food and Safety Authority has also been reviewing the research on pig welfare and released a scientific opinion in July 2022 outlining many welfare concerns including the inability to perform exploratory or foraging behaviour, inability to express maternal behaviour and inability to perform sucking behaviour, as well as respiratory and gastro-enteric disorders and soft tissue lesions. 71 recommendations were made to address these concerns including a move to farrowing pens (with ample space and nest building materials) rather than crates, more space in fattening pens to discourage damaging behaviours like tail biting, and the provision of mixed enrichment materials like haylage and straw. The review exercise was one of several that are part of the European Farm to Fork strategy that aims to revise animal welfare legislation by 2023.

Teagasc research project

On a national level, Teagasc commenced a research project in November 2021 that will run until October 2025 called OneWelPig. It is a collaboration with University College Dublin, Queens University Belfast and the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute, and is funded jointly by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland (DAERA.)  The project is being led by Dr Keelin O’Driscoll (project co-ordinator) and Dr Laura Boyle (principal investigator) who are both based at the Teagasc Pig Development Department in Moorepark, Fermoy, Co. Cork.

One welfare

The ‘One Welfare’ framework recognises the interconnectedness of animals, humans, and the environment in which we all live. OneWelPig will use this framework to compare alternative pig production systems, and investigate how they meet societal expectations regarding the welfare of animals, humans and the environment. The vision of the project is ‘the development of pig production systems that provide an environment that satisfies the animals’ physical and behavioural needs.’ The hope is that ultimately pig farmers will transition to higher welfare systems, whether indoors, at least partially outdoor or fully free range.

There are two main parts to the project. The first will focus on investigating options for producers operating under intensive indoor systems to meet both current and potential future regulatory requirements, with particular attention to how producers can effectively provide environmental enrichment. The current EC Pig Directive is not being fully adhered to as tail docking is being conducted routinely on the majority of farms and adequate enrichment is not being provided. All farms use fully slatted flooring which means it is impossible to provide suitable manipulable materials as they just fall through the slats and may block the slurry tanks below. This lack of stimulus for the pigs is conducive to damaging behaviours. Indeed even with tail docking, pigs may direct damaging behaviours to other body parts (e.g. the ears).  The focus is to identify materials that are readily available for adoption as enrichment by the industry, both for weaned and growing pigs, and for sows to use as nesting materials.

Outdoor pigs and agroforestry

The second part of the project will involve engaging with small scale, outdoor producers to establish a network to learn about common practices, and barriers that outdoor producers face. It will investigate the feasibility of transitioning towards a low emission and high welfare pig housing system, that could provide benefits for pig welfare and sustainability. Animal agriculture is responsible for 90% of our ammonia emissions and Ireland has been exceeding it’s legal limit since 2016. Whilst the main source of ammonia is cattle, the intensive farming of pigs tends to be concentrated in a small number of high production areas where the effects on biodiversity and air quality can be significant.

Another aspect of the project will involve a controlled evaluation of the impact of pig production in an agroforestry setting, looking at implications on land use. The constraints to raising pigs under high welfare conditions at commercial scale will also have to be considered as any system must be commercially viable. The hope is that it will be viable for pigs to have at least some access to the outdoors. Throughout the project social and regulatory barriers to alternative pig production systems and the social impact of current systems will be assessed.

With diseases like African Swine Fever being a constant threat biosecurity is important and Teagasc is also looking to develop a tool to improve biosecurity standards across the board.

Moorepark pig facility

Unique facility at Moorepark

A new, ambitious pig facility is currently under construction in the Teagasc Pig centre at Moorepark. Pigs will have access to a straw bedded sleeping area indoors and a solid concrete feeding/exercise covered area outdoors. In line with the concept of high animal welfare and low gas emissions the slatted dunging area of the pen will be kept to a minimum.


Get in touch

A primary aim of the project is to develop a roadmap for the future of the pig industry in Ireland with main stakeholder groups being invited to get involved, determining the roadmap rather than the project team.  Both conventional intensive and alternative outdoor and organic producers will be interviewed, where opinions and feedback can be given anonymously, to help develop the roadmap. If this is something that you would like to be involved with, please get in touch with Teagasc:

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