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Eustice sets out details of funding streams available under Animal Health and Welfare Pathway

23rd Feb 2022 / By Alistair Driver

Defra Secretary George Eustice has set out more details of the Animal Health and Welfare Pathway, including fully-funded annual vet visits and grants to improve conditions for livestock.

Eustice NFU 22The programme of financial support for farmers in the pig, cattle, sheep and poultry sectors, will be based around key animal health and welfare priorities. 

For pigs the priorities are to: 

  • Improve biosecurity to control endemic pig diseases and help prevent the introduction of exotic disease threats
  • Tackle Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS) virus, which costs the industry an estimated £52 million per annum and increases antibiotic use
  • Reduce sow confinement during farrowing: by supporting producers in shifting to less confined alternatives for the sow, whilst ensuring the welfare of her piglets. Defra confirmed it is also exploring potential reforms around the use of farrowing crates, which can restrict sows’ normal behaviours such as nesting. 
  • Reduce stressors to keep tails intact: Defra said it wants to support farmers in addressing the underlying causes of high stress levels in pigs, which trigger tail biting, such as poor environmental enrichment, so that farmers feel confident to not dock tails

The pathway’s first strand involves four funding programmes.

Grants

Animal Health and Welfare Grants will be launched within the next year.

These will fund upfront investments in equipment, technology and infrastructure to support health and welfare improvements, based on the priorities for the Pig Pathway, including tackling PRRS, reducing sow confinment and reducing stressors to keep tails intact. 

Defra said the grants would enable farmers to provide a higher level of health and welfare, over the statutory baseline.

Farmers will have the opportunity to influence the items that are included within the Animal Health and Welfare grants equipment and technology list. More details of this will be available on the NPA website soon. 

Free vet visits

Starting later this year, the Government will offer cattle, sheep and pig farmers an annual visit from a vet of their choice. However, initially at least, these visits will only be eligible for Basic Payment Scheme claimants for administrative purposes, meaning many pig farmers will be unable to access them. It is unclear if or when the free vet visits will be available to non-BPS claimants. 

Defra will pay for 2-3 hours of farmer and vet time to:

  • look at the health and welfare of their animals, including biosecurity and responsible use of medicines;
  • receive a report from the vet, which will include some achievable actions the farmer can take to improve health and welfare – this will not be shared with the Government, and is between the farmer and vet;
  • advice on action to take resulting from testing; and signposting to other support, including future grants and disease control schemes.

It will also involve testing for PRRS in pigs, BVD in cattle and drench in sheep. Each Review will be bespoke, with the farmer and deciding how to prioritise their time.

The payments rate for pigs will be £684 (and £436 for sheep, £522 for beef and £372 for dairy). This will be a cash payment and farmers will be responsible for agreeing a rate with their vet – Defra does not expect to see their invoice from the vet.

Disease eradication and control programme

Building on the advice given in the Annual Health and Welfare Review, the Pathway will also include a disease eradication and control programme.

This will offer financial support to prevent and reduce endemic diseases and conditions, with initial focus on the priorities. The programmes may involve diagnostic testing, veterinary advice, vaccination, improvements to on-farm management or active management planning.

Payment by results

Defra is planning to trial a payment by results programme.  This would mean rewarding farmers who can demonstrate high animal health and welfare outcomes, such as those such as those who provide their animals ample space and enrichment so they can better express their natural behaviours.

Profitability and health outcomes 

Mr Eustice said: “The Animal Health and Welfare Pathway is for those farmers who are in pursuit of higher profitability through better health outcomes, and it starts with an annual vet visit.

“Farmers will be able to have a vet of their choice, the family vet that they trust, and the government will pay. That vet will be able to help the farmer put together a plan for improved animal health and improved profitability on their livestock holding.”

UK Chief Vet, Christine Middlemiss said: “I hope to see wide-scale adoption of the Annual Health and Welfare Review as part of normal business practice, more farmers taking action to improve health and welfare, and improved outcomes when it comes to endemic diseases and conditions – which will improve animal health welfare and reduce waste, antibiotic use and financial losses”.

Further information on how livestock farmers can apply for the first step of the Animal Health and Welfare Pathway, the Annual Health and Welfare Review, will be shared in the Spring.