Access to bedding and outdoor runs for growing-finishing pigs: is it possible to improve welfare without increasing environmental impacts?

A.K. Ruckli, S. Hörtenhuber, S. Dippel, P. Ferrari, M. Gebska, M. Heinonen, J. Helmerichs, C. Hubbard, H. Spoolder, A. Valros, C. Winckler, C. Leeb*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Providing bedding or access to an outdoor run are husbandry aspects intended to improve pig welfare, which is currently financially supported through animal welfare schemes in several European countries. However, they may significantly affect the environment through changes in feed efficiency and manure management. Therefore, the aim of this paper was to compare farms differing in animal welfare relevant husbandry aspects regarding (1) the welfare of growing-finishing pigs and (2) environmental impact categories such as global warming (GW), acidification (AC), and freshwater (FE) and marine eutrophication (ME), by employing an attributional Life Cycle Assessment. We collected data on 50 farms with growing-finishing pigs in seven European countries. Ten animal-based welfare indicators were aggregated into three pig welfare indices using principal component analysis. Cluster analysis of farms based on husbandry aspects resulted in three clusters: NOBED (31 farms without bedding or outdoor run), BED (11 farms with bedding only) and BEDOUT (eight farms with bedding and outdoor run). Pigs on farms with bedding (BED and BEDOUT) manipulated enrichment more often (P < 0.001), pen fixtures less frequently (P = 0.003) and showed fewer oral stereotypies (P < 0.001) than pigs on NOBED farms. There were fewer pigs with a short(er) tail on farms with than without bedding (P < 0.001). Acidification of BEDOUT and BED farms was significantly higher (compared to NOBED farms P = 0.002) due to higher ammonia emissions related to farmyard manure. Also, BEDOUT farms had higher ME than NOBED farms (P = 0.035). There were no significant differences regarding GW and FE between husbandry clusters, due to the large variability within clusters regarding feed composition and conversion. Therefore, both husbandry aspects associated with improved animal welfare have a significant influence on some environmental impacts, such as acidification and marine eutrophication. Nevertheless, the large variation within clusters suggests that trade-offs may be minimised through e.g. AC and ME.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101155
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2024


  • Acidification
  • Eutrophication
  • Exploratory behaviour
  • Global warming
  • Life Cycle Assessment


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