Nutrition plays an essential role in animal welfare

Dr. Eija Valkonen, Area Sales Manager

Animal welfare has been a hot topic for some time, and many stakeholders have interest in it. For consumers the issue is important and many of us make daily decisions in grocery store based on the animal welfare image that we associate with various products. Among farmers animal welfare has always been in an important role being a central part of animal production due to its effects on animal performance, and profitability and sustainability of the production. There is also a strong connection between animal nutrition and welfare.

Safe and ethically produced food is more and more important to more and more people. Many of us consumers are interested in how the food is produced, and see the animal welfare and health as a part of food quality. In connection to that, livestock producers will continue to need to have a social acceptance for their production. The old and still valid argument for the importance of animal welfare for the producer is that a healthy and wellbeing animal will also perform well. Poor animal welfare often leads to increased costs. One very important reason for being concerned about animal welfare and health as a citizen, is that the human and animal health are interconnected. For example there are serious consequences to human health from the use of antibiotics in animal production.

Animal welfare is more than absence of disease, pain, fear, thirst, and hunger. Nowadays welfare assessments are based more on the positive feelings, sensations, and emotions, and focus on the individual animal, and its subjective state. The ability to either adapt to or influence on the environment, and the ability to fulfil one’s needs are important to animal’s subjective state. As an animal nutritionist I might be inclined to emphasize the role of nutrition in animal welfare. But still, as appropriate nutrition is literally essential to the mere existence, there should be no doubt about its importance for welfare. Also, if you think of all the things in nutrition and feeding that can go wrong in countless ways, you’ll have to appreciate the importance of nutrition for the animal welfare.

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The high production levels we observe today challenge animals’ metabolic homeostasis. Cows yield over 30 kg milk per day. Sows produce 30 piglets per year. Layers reach a peak of almost one egg per day and sustain high productivity for over a year. Broilers reach their desired end weight at an amazing rate in about 5 weeks. Such high levels of production demand a lot of nutrients and a high metabolic rate, putting pressure on the animals’ organs and organ systems. This may leave them more susceptible to various infectious and metabolic diseases. Immunocompetence decreases and at the same time inflammatory responses increase. Immunity functions can be supported by nutrition and there is evidence that it’s possible to restrict the excess inflammatory responses with dietary amendments even without in-feed antibiotics. Restricting the excess inflammatory responses makes better feed conversion ratio and production performance possible.

Hankkija FFI continues the heritage of its predecessors in development of products and concepts that support farm animal welfare and the normal function of their gastrointestinal tract. Our products Progut® and Progres® are dietary tools to support immunity and reduce inflammation reactions, and thus support animal welfare. Our on-going research focuses in finding new feed materials that could contribute to the gut health and overall wellbeing of farmed animals.