Health and Welfare

Understanding and promoting positive welfare

What is farm animal welfare?

A framework for the achievement of high standards of animal welfare is provided by the UK’s Animal Welfare Act 2006 legislation, which in turn is based on the ‘five freedoms’ of the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC). The Act says that an animal’s welfare needs include:

  • a suitable environment (how it is housed)
  • a suitable diet (what it eats and drinks)
  • the ability to exhibit normal behaviour patterns
  • any need it has to be housed with, or apart from, other animals
  • protection from pain, suffering, injury and disease

In 2012, the World Organisation for Animal Health adopted 10 ‘General Principles for the Welfare of Animals in Livestock Production Systems’ to guide the development of animal welfare standards. The General Principles draw on half a century of scientific research relevant to animal welfare:

genetic traits How genetic selection affects animal health, behaviour and temperament access to water Ensuring access to feed and water suited to the animals’ needs and adaptations
environment influences injury How the environment influences injuries and the transmission of diseases and parasites infection prevention Prevention and control of diseases and parasites, with humane euthanasia if treatment is not feasible or recovery is unlikely
lying down How the environment affects resting, movement and the performance of natural behaviour preventative care Prevention & management of pain
positive social relationships The management of groups to minimize conflict and allow positive social contact positive human relationship Creation of positive human–animal relationships
access to water The effects of air quality, temperature and humidity on animal health and comfort agri skill and learning Ensuring adequate skill and knowledge among animal handlers

(Table adapted from Fraser et al., 2013).

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  • Livestock should be land-based and integrated with farm cropping enterprises
  • Animals should be provided with conditions that enable them to exhibit natural behaviours
  • Dependency on veterinary medicines should be reduced without jeopardising the well-being of animals


outdoor access

Animals having outdoor access, shade, shelter, lighting and sufficient space for them to undertake free movement and to exhibit natural behaviors.


Using breeds and strains well-suited and adapted to the prevailing conditions.

Health Plan

Implementing herd and flock planning based on sound ecological practices and epidemiological knowledge.


Undertaking good practice with regard to biosecurity.

closed herds

Maintaining animals in closed herds and flocks and at stocking rates that enables free-movement, reduces risks of disease spread and minimises environmental damage.

forage and grazing

Forage and grazing being the main source of nutrients for ruminants, and continuously available to non-ruminants.

production practices

Avoiding the use of mutilations as standard production practices.


Improved understanding and responsible usage of veterinary medicines.