Cost-efficiency of animal welfare in broiler production systems: A pilot study using the Welfare Quality® assessment protocol

Éva Gocsik*, Suzanne D. Brooshooft, Ingrid C. de Jong, Helmut W. Saatkamp

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


Broiler producers operate in a highly competitive and cost-price driven environment. In addition, in recent years the societal pressure to improve animal welfare (AW) in broiler production systems is increasing. Hence, from an economic and decision making point of view, the cost-efficiency of improvement in AW obtained from a certain production system is of great importance. Therefore, the aim of this paper was to analyze the contribution of four different production systems to overall AW and the cost-efficiency of increased AW at the farm level. Cost-efficiency was calculated as the ratio of the change in the level of animal welfare and the change in the level of production costs compared to the level of conventional system (i.e., legal minimum standards). The level of AW was measured by the Welfare Quality index score (WQ index score) calculated on the basis of data collected in 168 flocks in the Netherlands, United Kingdom and Italy within the Welfare Quality® project. On the basis of system attributes, three main segments of production systems are distinguished, i.e., conventional, middle-market and top-market systems. The middle-market and top-market systems use a slow growing breed. Stocking density ranges from 25 to 31 kg/m2 in middle-market systems and from 21 to 27.5 kg/m2 in top-market systems. In the middle-market systems, a covered veranda is provided to the chickens, whereas in the top-market systems chickens have access to an outdoor range. Results show that the middle-market systems, such as Volwaard and Puur & Eerlijk systems, had the highest WQ index score (736), whereas the conventional system had the lowest (577). Moreover, the WQ index score of extensive outdoor (733) and organic systems (698) was below that of the middle-market systems. The major system attributes that differentiate between production systems are broiler type, stocking density and outdoor access. Three system attributes contributed most to AW in all systems, i.e., broiler type, stocking density and length of the dark period. With respect to production costs, broiler chickens kept in conventional system were produced at the lowest costs, followed by the middle-market, the extensive outdoor, and the organic systems. With regard to cost-efficiency, when shifting from conventional to an alternative system, middle-market systems (i.e., Volwaard and Puur & Eerlijk; 8.37) outperformed the extensive outdoor (3.90) and organic systems (1.03). Overall, it can be concluded that the middle-market systems could be attractive for farmers due to their high cost-efficiency and the flexibility to revert to the conventional system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)55-69
JournalAgricultural Systems
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Animal welfare
  • Broiler production
  • Cost-efficiency

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