Operationalizing principle-based standards for animal welfare—indicators for climate problems in pig houses

Herman M. Vermeer*, Hans Hopster

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


The Dutch animal welfare law includes so-called principle-based standards. This means that the objective is described in abstract terms, enabling farmers to comply with the law in their own way. Principle-based standards are, however, difficult for the inspection agency to enforce because strict limits are missing. This pilot project aimed at developing indicators (measurements) to assess the climate in pig houses, thus enabling the enforcement of principle-based standards. In total, 64 farms with weaners and 32 farms with growing–finishing pigs were visited. On each farm, a set of climate-related measurements was collected in six pens. For each of these measurements, a threshold value was set, and exceeding this threshold indicated a welfare risk. Farm inspections were carried out during winter and spring, thus excluding situations with heat stress. Assessment of the variation and correlation between measurements reduced the dataset from 39 to 12 measurements. Using a principal components analysis helped to select five major measurements as warning signals. The number of exceeded thresholds per pen and per farm was calculated for both the large (12) and small (five) sets of measurements. CO2 and NH3 concentrations were related to the outside temperature. On colder days, there was less ventilation, and thus CO2 and NH3 concentrations increased. Air quality, reflected in the CO2 and NH3 concentrations, was associated with respiratory problems. Eye scores were positively correlated with both pig and pen fouling, and pig and pen fouling were closely related. We selected five signal indicators: CO2, NH3, and tail and eye score for weaners and finishers, and added ear score for weaners and pig fouling for growing–finishing pigs. The results indicate that pig farms can be ranked based on five signal indicators related to reduced animal welfare caused by climatic conditions. This approach could be adopted to other principle-based standards for pigs as well as for other species.

Original languageEnglish
Article number44
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 23 Mar 2018
Event7th International Conference on the Assessment of Animal Welfare at Farm and Group level - Ede, Netherlands
Duration: 5 Sept 20178 Sept 2017


  • Animal-based indicators
  • Climate
  • Inspection
  • Pigs
  • Principle-based regulation
  • Principle-based standards
  • Welfare
  • Welfare regulations


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