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Updated Welfare Code - what you need to know

19th Sep 2019 / By Alistair Driver

The recently updated pig welfare Code of Practice sets out a number of new requirements for pig producers, but for the vast majority, it should not be too onerous.

Welfare CodeAll producers are advised to familiarise themselves with the Code, which sets out updated legal requirements (highlighted in boxes) and guidance on rearing pigs.

You can view the Code here

About the Code

  • The Code of Practice, laid before Parliament last week, is Defra’s interpretation of existing welfare legislation and is designed help keepers maintain the standards required to comply with the relevant legislation.
  • It will also be used by enforcement bodies, including Animal and Plant Health Agency inspectors and local authorities, when investigating allegations of poor welfare to look at whether animal welfare standards are being met.
  • The Code is also part of Red Tractor and compliance with will be required for the Red Tractor audit.
  • It applies to England only, although devolved administrations will aim to align their new codes as closely as possible to Defra’s.
  • The Code is not in force yet. Following 40 a 40-day period in parliament, it will be formally approved by a Defra Minister and will come into force 21 days later.  This is expected to happen early next year.

There are new elements, notably related to tail docking, enrichment and record keeping, as well as a clear signal from Government that it would like to see farrowing crates phased out over time.

The NPA and Pig Veterinary Society (PVS) worked with Defra in developing the Code, which has also had input from animal welfare NGO’s, before final sign off by the Farm Animal Welfare Committee.

While there are still some elements of concern, the NPA achieved a number of concessions, removing some elements that would have added unnecessary burdens or penalties for producers.

NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said: “While the code will require producers to do some things differently, it is important to stress that the vast majority of it is still simple guidance that most producers should not have a problem with and should already be doing.

“All producers should make the effort to familiarise themselves with the Code – and once you have done so, please let us know if you have any big concerns. We will be discussing the Code in detail at our Autumn NPA Spring Regional meetings – so make sure you come along!” (Click here for dates)

Here, we highlight some of the key updates in the Code.

Tail docking (p32)

pig tailsThe document sets out the position on tail docking:

Routine tail docking is not permitted. Tail docking should only be used as a last resort, after improvements to the pigs’ environment and management have proved ineffectual in preventing tail biting.

Owners/keepers should document evidence of tail biting and keep records of the measures instigated and their effectiveness on improving the pigs’ welfare. Where records are not available and pigs are found to be tail docked, this may be considered in any decisions regarding the legality of the tail docking procedure being carried out by owners/keepers. Where breeding units are tail docking in response to requests from finishing units, it is the owner’s responsibility to request this evidence from their supply units to justify any level of tail docking on the breeding unit.

If tail docking has been used on a farm to prevent tail biting for a sustained period of time, there should be a more regular review of current measures being taken to minimise tail biting in the herd and owners/keepers may need to consider changing management procedures or changes to the system in which the pigs are reared. Any new accommodation and slurry management systems should be designed to ensure that adequate enrichment material can be provided and other trigger factors for tail biting have been addressed to ensure tail docking is only seen as a last resort, nonroutine measure. When designing and installing new accommodation the appropriateness of the flooring should be a material consideration.

NPA comment: This is one area of the Code where some producers will need to do more. For example, producers must start recording what they have done to prevent and control tail biting to justify any continuation of tail docking. If APHA inspectors find pigs are docked, but there is no supporting evidence, producers will be penalised through Single Payment deductions or even court action as they will be in breach of the Code.

Enrichment (p23)

On enrichment, the document states:

All pigs must have permanent access to enrichment materials which provide pigs with the opportunity to enable proper investigation, manipulation and foraging activities. Enrichment materials should enable pigs to fulfil their essential behavioural needs without compromising their health. They must be safe, hygienic and should ideally have the following characteristics:

a) edible— so that pigs can eat or smell them, (possibly with some nutritional benefits);

b) chewable— so that pigs can bite them;

c) investigable— so that pigs can investigate them; and

d) manipulable— so that pigs can change their location, appearance or structure

The Code also provides useful guidance on the suitability of commonly used enrichment materials.

NPA comment: The NPA fought hard to ensure the guidance in this section was practical for producers follow. For example, we ensured the wording states that enrichment materials ‘should ideally’ have the characteristics listed rather than being required to have all of them, which would have limited the options.

Farrowing (p39)

This is another significant section of the new Code. For a start, Defra sets out its intention to phase out farrowing crates.

Farrowing crate 3The aim is for farrowing crates to no longer be necessary and for any new system to protect the welfare of the sow, as well as her piglets. Where the sow is confined in a farrowing crate, it should be large enough to accommodate her and to allow her to rise and lie down without difficulty and should be easily accessed in an emergency.

The Code also highlights the requirement to provide enrichment in farrowing crates, something all producers will be expected to do.

Nesting material should be provided, wherever possible, particularly in the 24 hours prior to farrowing to satisfy the sow’s need to nest build and therefore minimise stress. Nesting material is in addition to any environmental enrichment material already provided.

NPA Comment: We would encourage all producers to look to provide something for the sow before farrowing, but this does not mean it has to be straw, it could be shavings or shredded paper.  The law states that nesting material is required unless the slurry system cannot support it, so it is not an absolute must however.  Permanent enrichment in farrowing crates will still be required for the sows and piglets in addition to nesting material.   

Handling (p11)

The Code sets out what is expected of pig keepers when it comes to handing their animals.

All owners/keepers should have access to easy to use and efficient handling systems. This is to allow pigs to be routinely moved, managed and treated and ensures that they are quietly and gently handled. Pigs should be moved at their own pace with the owner/keeper staying behind the pigs.

Pigs have a very wide angle of vision and are easily disturbed by novel objects, sudden movements, variations in lighting or sudden noise. Excessive force must not be used. It is not acceptable to strike or kick pigs.

Avoid putting any pressure on the body of the pig, particularly the face, snout and belly. Pig boards should be used only for encouraging pigs in the right direction, for blocking visible exits/gaps along the route and must not have a sharp or pointed end.

NPA comment: Correct handling pigs has always been a very important part of stockmanship and something we are very keen to emphasise, however we are well aware that pigs can be very difficult to move at times and the stock person should be able to maintain control and protect their own safety as well as the pigs. Clear guidance is being sought from APHA as to what is considered acceptable in this area.   

Casualty slaughter (p18)

There is also more clarity in the Code on casualty slaughter, after the NPA and PVS raised concerns over the original draft. The Code says:

Any health and welfare plan should detail the routine methods to be used for killing animals and who is competent to do this. It should also outline contingency procedures in the event such persons are unavailable, such as obtaining a licensed slaughter-person or a veterinary surgeon to carry out this procedure as soon as possible.

Animals must be killed humanely using a method which immediately renders them unconscious until death. Pigs routinely culled on-farm must not be killed with a non-mechanical percussive blow to the head. A mechanical percussive blow to the head is a simple stun and must be followed by a killing method such as bleeding.

NPA comment: Following NPA and PVS intervention, Defra have agreed that pigs are rarely routinely culled on farm, as most will have suffered from illness or injury, so the requirement for a slaughterman’s license for all staff is not a necessity.  Defra still feels that having one staff member who has a license is preferable however.

Pig’s environment (p35)

The Code sets out the environmental conditions that pigs should be kept in. For example, it states:

Pigs need a stable environment that is close to their optimum temperature and humidity, draught-free and with suitable lighting conditions. Maintaining the right temperature and good air quality is extremely important in keeping stress levels low. If pigs are not comfortable, they may become aggressive and may begin tail, leg, flank or ear biting.

NPA Comment: The draft Code went much further, stipulating environmental gas and humidity level limits that producers would be expected to record and adhere to. We argued that these limits would be impossible to measure with any consistency and could result in producers being unfairly penalised, so the table was removed, but we expect APHA will still be operating to a standard procedure, which despite months of asking for we are still yet to see, and be working to certain limits. We will advise further on what exactly will be required once we have discussed with them.


The Code is strong on planning and record-keeping, as the following extracts highlight.

Lighting (p26)

Owners/keepers should routinely check light levels are appropriate and keep a record of levels in pens at all stages of rearing, including farrowing accommodation. Lighting should be regularly checked, maintained and cleaned. The siting of machinery such as feed milling units should be appropriate to minimise the noise impact on housed stock.

NPA comment: This is a completely new requirement. We were not convinced what recording adds and fear it could be variable, but this has still ended up in the Code. 

Health and welfare plan (p7)

It is recommended that the owner/keeper should draw up and implement a written pig health and welfare plan with a veterinary surgeon and, where necessary, other technical advisors. Owners/keepers should review and update this health and welfare plan regularly. This plan should set out health and husbandry activities that cover the cycle of production and include plans to prevent, treat or limit disease problems.

Contingency planning (p9)

Any health and welfare plan should include contingency plans to deal with emergencies on the unit/premises, such as fire; flooding; temperature extremes; temporary restriction on movement of pigs from the unit (for example, during suspect or actual notifiable disease outbreaks); disruption of supplies (for example, feed, water and electricity) and when automated equipment fails and cannot be immediately rectified.

Responsible medicines usage and record keeping (p19).

Any pig health and welfare plan, agreed with a veterinary surgeon, should focus on disease prevention through appropriate biosecurity, hygiene and vaccination protocols. Antimicrobials should not be used routinely but only for the treatment, control or prevention of disease as prescribed by a veterinary surgeon when specific disease or infection has been diagnosed.

Balcony systems for weaners

There is a new section on requirements for balcony systems for weaners.

Where part of the unobstructed area is on a different level, for example, balcony systems for weaners, the design must comply with all other requirements of welfare legislation including:

  • suitability of flooring for the age of pig;
  • avoidance of injury risks from all new fixtures and fittings including ramps; minimum lighting requirements in the covered areas; 
  • system design which avoids dung and urine falling on pigs underneath the balcony;
  •  system design which allows all pigs to access all areas; and
  • ability for owners/keepers to inspect all pigs at all times and remove sick or injured pigs without further injury.

Stockmanship (p7)

A common theme throughout the Code is the importance of good stockmanship.

Without good stockmanship, animal welfare can never be adequately protected. Owners/keepers who care for pigs should demonstrate:

  • Caring and responsible planning and management;
  • Skilled, knowledgeable and conscientious stockmanship;
  • Knowledge of appropriate environmental design;
  • Considerate loading, unloading and transport; and
  • Ability to undertake humane killing.