3.1. Acceptance of the KTBL Welfare Indicators
The KTBL guide proposes 13 indicators for the animal welfare assessment of fattening pigs. The interviewed fattening pig farmers were asked about their acceptance, i.e., whether or not they consider the individual indicator to be valid for the welfare assessment of fattening pigs. The result is shown in Figure 1
= 40 responses per indicator, except for the indicators animal losses, treatment incidence antibiotics and daily weight gains n = 39 responses). It shows that the farmers accept the proposed KTBL indicators to a varying extent for the animal welfare assessment of fattening pigs. The indicators water supply, lameness and tail lesions received the highest acceptance. All three indicators are considered indicative of the welfare of fattening pigs by 90% of the interviewed farmers. The acceptance of the indicators evidence of ectoparasites, skin lesions and ear lesions is only slightly lower, with ≥85% of the farmers seeing a correlation between the indicator and the welfare of fattening pigs. The indicators daily weight gains, slaughter checks, runts and animal losses are also considered valid for determining the welfare of fattening pigs by more than two-thirds of the farmers. More than half of the farmers (59%) also accepted the indicator treatment incidence antibiotics. In contrast, the majority of farmers reject the indicators faecal soiling and tail length. Only 42.5% of the interviewed farmers can identify a correlation between the faecal soiling of a fattening pig and its welfare. With regard to the indicator tail length, only 27.5% of the farmers state that the indicator is indicative for the well-being of fattening pigs.
The farmers were also asked to name the KTBL indicators which they consider to be the most or least meaningful with respect to the welfare of fattening pigs (n = 40 responses, multiple answers possible). In line with the answer to the previous question, the indicator faecal soiling was named 13 times as the indicator with the lowest degree of validity and the indicator tail length 12 times. The indicators slaughter checks, ear lesions, tail lesions, water supply and antibiotic treatment index were not mentioned once in this respect. The farmers were divided with regard to the indicator with the highest degree of validity. Apart from the indicator tail length, each of the 13 KTBL welfare indicators was mentioned at least once. A common consensus is that 16 people named at least one of the three indicators tail lesions, ear lesions or skin lesions as the KTBL indicator with the highest significance. Injuries to fattening pigs therefore appear to have a significant influence on the animals‘ welfare according to the farmers taking part in this study.
The question arises what causes the reduced acceptance of the indicators tail length and faecal soiling. Regarding the indicator tail length, the KTBL has two intentions with the proposal of this indicator [8
]. One is to check the compliance with the legal requirements for tail docking in Germany (i.e., that only in exceptional cases a maximum of one third of a pig’s tail is docked). The other is to determine whether individual pigs have suffered further losses of tail length during rearing or fattening due to tail biting. However, the distinction has no influence on the fact that the farmers have a reduced acceptance of the indicator tail length. This becomes clear in the analysis of the farmers’ reasons for not accepting this indicator. Regarding the intention to reflect the result of tail docking, the farmers argue that the indicator is unsuitable for the welfare assessment of fattening pigs as docking is done by the piglet producer, who decides by which length the tails are shortened. Accordingly, the fattening pig farmer has just a limited influence on this and only give feedback to the piglet producer. With regard to the KTBL intention to use the indicator in order to detect losses of the length during the fattening period due to tail biting, the respondents have a clear attitude: Pigs that become victims of cannibalistic behaviour of penmates must be immediately separated from the group at the first signs. According to the interviewed farmers, it is unacceptable that such animals remain in the group and are attacked so severely that a significant loss of tail length occurs. In conclusion, the farmers interviewed within this study see only limited use and little relevance of the indicator tail length with respect to welfare assessment of fattening pigs.
Regarding the reduced acceptance of the welfare indicator faecal soiling, it must be said that its validity has also been questioned by scientists. In general, validity means that a method under investigation actually measures the specific characteristic it is supposed to measure [14
]. In welfare science, only an indicator which truly provides information about animal welfare can be considered as valid [15
]. For example, within a review of the currently used methods in animal welfare assessment, Winckler [16
] points out that there is a lack of investigations on the topic whether or not indicators, collected during spot assessments, truly reflect the overall animal welfare. Winckler specifically mentions indicators regarding the degree of faecal pollution of animals in this context [16
]. The reasoning of the farmers interviewed in this study goes along with this opinion. The example that was often cited by the interviewed farmers was that fattening pigs, which are contaminated with faeces to a greater extent because it is the first warm day of summer, do not necessarily suffer from reduced welfare.
3.2. Feasibility of the KTBL Welfare Indicators
In the KTBL guide, five indicators are proposed for the welfare assessment of fattening pigs, which are not recorded on the animals in the barn, but are collected from the farm’s documentation or technical equipment. The use of such data, which are recorded by default by most farmers anyway, is compliant with the KTBL’s aim of achieving the most positive cost-benefit ratio possible from the application of the guide for the farmer. In order to check the extent to which this objective has been realised, the fattening pig farmers were asked whether they record the data needed for those five indicators by default. The answers to this question can be summarised as follows (n = 40 answers per indicator): The indicators water supply (90%), slaughter checks (92.5%), animal losses (95%) and treatment incidence antibiotics (100%) are recorded by ≥90% of the interviewed fattening pig farmers by default. The indicator daily weight gains is routinely calculated by 75% of the farmers as an operational key figure. The percentage of the farmers who not only record those indicators by default but also evaluate them regularly is on average per indicator 10 percentage points lower (±6.1). In conclusion, the aim of the KTBL, to propose as many indicators as possible, which are recorded and evaluated by the farmers anyway, in order to increase the practical feasibility of the KTBL guide, has been achieved to a great extent.
The feasibility of the KTBL indicators, which are recorded in the barn for individual pigs, was also judged by the 40 farmers interviewed. The farmers were asked to assess the feasibility of recording the eight animal-specific indicators on a five-point scale from very easy to very difficult. The result is shown in Figure 2
= 40 ratings per indicator). The animal-specific KTBL indicator which, in the opinion of the fattening pig farmers interviewed, can be recorded most easily, i.e., is most suitable for practical use, is the indicator ear lesions. In total, 97.5% of the farmers judged the assessment of this indicator as very easy or easy. The feasibility of the indicators runts, tail length, tail lesions and lameness is also quite high. The collection of these four indicators was rated as very easy or easy by 80% to 87.5% of the participants. In relation to this, the indicators evidence of ectoparasites, faecal soiling and skin lesions are less suitable for practical use. The proportion of farmers who rate the collection of these three indicators as very easy or easy is between 50% and 75%. The indicators evidence of ectoparasites and faecal soiling are particularly noticeable because more than 10% of the farmers described their collection as difficult or very difficult.
In the scientific literature, the feasibility of some of the eight animal-specific KTBL indicators is assessed in a similar way as in this study; for other indicators there are differences. Similar assessments can be found for the indicators ear lesions, tail lesions and skin lesions. With respect to the indicators ear lesions and tail lesions, the opinion of the 40 fattening pig farmers about the high feasibility of those two indicators is in line with the assessment of scientists. For example, Bracke [17
] also judges the feasibility of these two indicators as relatively high. The collection of the indicator skin lesion was judged as medium or difficult by almost 50% of the interviewed farmers within this study. This is in accordance with Velarde [18
], who describes that the feasibility of recording this indicator can be reduced depending on the situation. Examples of such situations are the collection in large groups of animals, in poor light conditions, in pens with high stocking densities, when there is a high degree of pollution of the animals, when the animals are resting and when the lesions are placed on the bottom of the pigs [18
]. Regarding the indicator lameness, the farmers interviewed evaluated the feasibility differently than the scientists: Velarde [19
], for example, considers the feasibility of recording this indicator as limited. The reason given is that for a valid evaluation of gait abnormalities during movement it is necessary to select the pigs from the pen, to separate them, to let them walk on a clean, dry and even floor and to carry out the evaluation under good light conditions [20
]. That the feasibility of the indicator lameness was assessed as relatively high in this study is probably due to the fact that the KTBL guide does not make similar detailed instructions for the optimal recording of this indicator. In this respect, the KTBL guide just recommends that the collection should be carried out on non-slip flooring. The feasibility of the indicator faecal soiling was as well assessed contrarily by farmers interviewed in the study and scientists. According to Courboulay [21
], this indicator can be collected from the inspection walkway of the pen with a high degree of feasibility even in large groups of pigs. However, a prerequisite for this is the recommendation that only one side of the animal needs to be checked for faecal soiling. Although this procedure is suggested identically in the KTBL guide, the feasibility of this indicator was rated as medium or difficult by 30% of the farmers within this study.
The interviewed fattening pig farmers justified the comparatively reduced feasibility of the indicators evidence of ectoparasites, faecal soiling and skin lesions by the following: some farmers stated that a trained eye, which has already seen an infestation, is required to recognise a suspicion of ectoparasites. This statement is in line with the reasoning of other respondents who admitted that there is a lack of experience and expertise in detecting a suspicion. Other fattening pig farmers pointed out that in order to see louse eggs the evaluator has to get very close to the animal and questioned the suitability of the KTBL recommendation that this should be done from a distance of one metre. To justify the comparatively low feasibility of the indicator skin lesions, the interviewed farmers referred to other challenges. On one hand, the farmers perceive the collection of this indicator as subjective, because there is a lack of clarity regarding the distinction of skin lesions. For example, questions have arisen as to when a scratch is considered a skin lesion, how to deal with dark, almost healed scabs or how to interpret skin reddening. On the other hand, as a justification for the reduced feasibility in practice, it was stated that the counting of the number of wounds to decide which score to give a pig was considered as being too time-consuming. Furthermore, the assessment of the length of a wound that is taken into account for the assignment of the three scores of the indicator from a distance was indicated as a challenge. As justification for difficulties in recording the indicator faecal soiling, most farmers mentioned the differentiation of the scores by percentage differences in the faecal contamination of the fattening pigs: many of the farmers interviewed said that it is easy to distinguish between clean and clearly contaminated pigs, but that the differentiation of score two of this indicator is a challenge and makes the collection of this indicator overall subjective.
Based on the arguments given by the farmers with respect to the assessment of the feasibility, questions about the effect of the number of scores within the indicators arise. It is remarkable that for the two indicators faecal soiling and skin lesions, whose collection was described as very easy or easy from a small number of farmers, not only two scores are distinguished, as in most other KTBL indicators, but three scores. During the interviews, the farmers were also asked to assess the number of scores within the indicators. The result is shown in Figure 3
. First of all, it can be noted that for all indicators more than 60% of the farmers stated that the number of scores is appropriate and should not be changed. For the indicators lameness, tail lesions and ear lesions, in which two scores are distinguished, up to 40% of farmers identified a need for additional scores. The reason given for this is that with score one fattening pigs with significant abnormalities regarding these indicators are evaluated. The farmers are of the opinion that these pigs with clearly visible wounds and crusts on the ear or tail or clearly noticeable lameness should not be found in the regular herd at all, but should be housed in a hospital pen. Accordingly, farmers require a further score to detect low level tail or ear lesions and lameness. A proposal for this that needs to be examined regarding its effects on reliability, feasibility and validity of the indicators is: Score 0 of those three indicators could be defined as fattening pigs with normal gait respectively uninjured ears respectively uninjured tails without any abnormalities. Score 1 could be fattening pigs with a stiff gait, foreshortened stride, snake-like movements of the spine respectively ears with linear bite wounds or crusts or reddened ears respectively tails with linear bite wounds or crusts or reddened or slightly swollen tails. The idea would be that with the help of this score, victim animals could be identified early and separated from the group in order to prevent the occurrence of fattening pigs that have to be assessed with score 2, which is fattening pigs that do not put any weight on individual affected legs or are not able to walk at all respectively pigs with bleeding wounds or large scabs or intensely swollen and inflamed tails respectively ears. For the indicators skin lesions, faecal soiling and tail length, between 80% and 90% of the farmers interviewed rated the availability of three grades as appropriate. More scores for those three indicators were requested by ≤5% of the fattening pig farmers. In contrast, 7.5% to 12.5% of the farmers were of the opinion that the number of scores within these three indicators should be reduced. Thus, there are clearly fewer farmers who consider that the number of scores within the indicators faecal soiling and skin lesions should be reduced than respondents who describe the feasibility of collecting those two indicators as medium, difficult or very difficult.
3.3. Overall Feasibility of the KTBL Guide and Its Recommended Methods
In order to reduce the time and costs associated with the collection of the indicators for assessing fattening pig welfare, the KTBL guide proposes to take a random sample of the pigs of a herd into account. When asked whether this approach is permissible in terms of a valid assessment of the welfare level of an entire herd, 77.5% of the farmers agreed (n = 40 responses). The other 22.5% of the farmers have concerns in this respect and believe that in order to assess the welfare level of a herd accurately, all fattening pigs should be evaluated using the indicators. A study concerning the differences in the results between the assessment of the KTBL indicators in an entire herd of fattening pigs and in a random sample is already available [22
]. In conclusion, the majority of the interviewed fattening pig farmers accept the KTBL proposal to consider a sample of pigs in welfare assessment. The sample size proposed in the KTBL guide (see Table 1
) was evaluated by the farmers as follows (n = 40 answers): With 47.5%, almost half of the interviewed farmers felt that the recommended sample size was too high. In total, 40% of the fattening pig farmers are of the opinion that the recommended sample size is appropriate. In total, 12.5% of the farmers thought the sample size was too low and were willing to collect the indicators for a larger number of fattening pigs. These 12.5% interview partners have an average of 3560 ± 2533 fattening pig places on their farms, which is exactly twice as many fattening pigs than the average of all 40 farmers participating in this study. Among them are three farmers with 4600 to 6000 fattening pig places. The sample size of 150 pigs recommended in the KTBL guide means that for these three farms between 2.5% and 3.3% of the fattening pigs in their herds are taken into account to record the indicators faecal soiling, skin lesions, ear lesions, tail lesions, lameness and runts. However, two farmers with less than 1200 fattening places have also indicated that the sample size should be increased. For these two farmers, according to the current recommendations of the KTBL guide, 13% and 27.3% of the fattening pigs are taken into account when recording those animal-specific indicators. As a conclusion, further studies should investigate the effect of changes in the recommendations on sample size, for example, an increase or the consideration of a specific percentage of the fattening pigs in a herd for welfare assessment, on the feasibility and validity of the KTBL guide.
The fattening pig farmers also assessed the frequency suggested by the KTBL guide for collecting the indicators (see Table 1
= 40 answers). In total, 60% of the interviewees were of the opinion that the proposed frequency of collection is appropriate and see no need for modification. That the indicators are to be collected too often was stated by 17.5% of the farmers, who would welcome a reduction of the frequency of collection. In total, 22.5% of the farmers interviewed thought that the indicators should be collected too seldom according to the KTBL guide and would be willing to record the indicators more often. In an additional question, the fattening pig farmers were asked to name specific indicators which should be more or less frequently evaluated (more than one answer possible, n = 40 farmers). More than 50% of the interviewees also answered this question by stating that no indicators should be collected more often or less frequently than recommended by the KTBL guide. The indicator tail lesions was named most often in connection with a wish for a higher frequency of collection (14 mentions). The indicators faecal soiling, lameness, skin lesions, ear lesions and runts were also mentioned in this context (5–10 mentions each). In contrast, the interviewees had no common opinion with respect to indicators that should be recorded less frequently than recommended in the KTBL guide. Only the indicator tail length was mentioned to a noteworthy extent (8 mentions). All other indicators were named only partially in this context (≤3 mentions each).
Within the scope of the interviews, the 40 fattening pig farmers were not only asked to evaluate the recommendations regarding the sampling and the frequency of the collection of the indicators, but also to judge on the feasibility of the KTBL guide as a complete set. In this context, the farmers were requested to assess the relation between the time expenditure needed to evaluate the welfare of the fattening pigs according to the KTBL guide and their benefits resulting from it on a five-point rating scale. In addition, the farmers were asked to rate the overall feasibility of the KTBL guide. The result of both questions is shown in Figure 4
= 40 responses each). The relation between time expenditure and benefit was judged as adequate by 12 farmers (grade 2), medium by 13 farmers (grade 3) and inadequate by 11 farmers (grade 4). The average rating was 3.1, which the farmers justified in the following way: the majority of the interviewed fattening pig farmers consider the time necessary to carry out the welfare assessment according to the KTBL guide as appropriate, but are dissatisfied with the resulting benefit. Many of the fattening pig farmers interviewed missed an overall result after performing the animal welfare assessment, i.e., an aggregation of the values for all individual indicators into a single value, like a key figure that can be classified and compared with others. After the indicators were collected, many farmers involved within this study asked questions about how to analyse and interpret the results and whether the level of animal welfare on their farm could be considered as being good or bad. This shows their lack of certainty about the informative value of the results of the welfare assessment according to the KTBL guide. The average overall assessment of the feasibility of the KTBL guide according to the 40 farmers was 2.4, with the majority of the farmers (57.5%) rating it high (grade 2) and a further 37.5% considering it to be moderate (grade 3). Despite this relatively good rating, the interviewees saw room for improvement in the KTBL guides’ recommendations and made concrete suggestions for modifications.
3.4. Potential for Improving the KTBL Guide According to the Interviewed Farmers
During the interviews, the farmers suggested various opportunities to improve the KTBL guide. Most of these suggestions have already been described above. However, four additional aspects are: (1) 77.5% of the interviewees expressed a wish for further tools to increase the efficiency and simplicity of animal welfare assessment according to the KTBL guide (n = 40 farmers). When asked which tool the farmers were thinking of (more than one response possible), the following two tools were mainly mentioned: Firstly, the farmers would like to have a standard copy template or scoring worksheet in which the recorded indicators can be easily noted while the evaluator is still in the barn (17 mentions). Secondly, the farmers desire a digital possibility for data entry, for example, an app that also automatically takes over the analysis of the data (17 mentions). (2) With regard to the evaluation of the result of the animal welfare assessment, farmers demand a standardised procedure to aggregate an overall result using all recorded indicators in order to increase the benefit from the application of the KTBL script. Such an overall result must clearly show the current status quo of animal welfare on the farm and also allow comparison with previous welfare assessments on the same farm or benchmarking with other farms. (3) Further suggestions for improvement can be derived regarding the set of indicators mentioned in the KTBL guide from the question if indicators should be excluded or included (n
= 40 interviewed farmers). Additional indicators were suggested by 70% of the farmers. Most frequently named were parameters of the housing climate (a total of 12 mentions), such as air quality, concentration of harmful gases and temperature. The farmers stated that in their point of view these parameters have a huge influence on the welfare of the fattening pigs. Each of the following four indicators was mentioned three times: coughing and respiratory tract diseases, ocular and nasal discharge, umbilical and testicular hernias, and abnormalities affecting the limbs or joints, for example, bursitis. Only one mention each was made for the transportation time, the human–animal relationship and an indicator that captures the possibility of natural behaviours such as rooting and scratching. It is not surprising that the animal owners with several mentions suggested mainly resource-based indicators. Many studies report that farmers define animal welfare primarily in terms of good husbandry conditions [23
]. When asked whether individual indicators should be omitted from the KTBL guide, only 32.5% of the farmers agreed. To a remarkable extent, only the indicator tail length was proposed for being omitted (6 mentions). (4) During the interviews, farmers repeatedly pointed out that the recommendations of the KTBL guide are very much focused on farms with conventional fattening pig husbandry in pens for up to 30 animals. The question arises whether the KTBL guide can be implemented easily on farms with straw bedding, organic farming and with large group sizes, for example, mega groups. As none of the interviewees is practising organic fattening pig farming and only four farmers with outdoor climate housing took part in the interviews, this question cannot be answered within the framework of the present study. In order to investigate this, further surveys should be carried out for specific target groups. The question of the feasibility of implementing the KTBL guide in mega groups cannot be answered finally either, because only five of the interview participants kept fattening pigs in mega groups with more than 60 animals. The main objection raised by these five farmers was that the KTBL guide does not contain recommendations for random sampling on farms with mega groups. For the sake of completeness, thoughts should be made about amending the KTBL recommendations for these types of fattening pig farms.