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Research article2021Peer reviewedOpen access

My pigs are ok, why change? – animal welfare accounts of pig farmers

Albernaz-Gonçalves, Rita; Olmos Antillón, Gabriela; Hötzel, M.J.


Intensive pig production systems are a source of stress, which is linked to reduced animal welfare and increased antimicrobial use. As the gatekeepers of the welfare of the animals under their care, farmers are seen as the stakeholder responsible for improving animal welfare. The aim of this study was to explore the knowledge and attitudes of pig farmers towards pig welfare and the impact of such attitudes on farmers' selection of management strategies on the farm. We conducted in-depth semi-structured interviews with 44 pig farmers in one of the main pig producing regions of Brazil. Interviews covered knowledge and attitudes towards pig sentience and behaviour and welfare-related issues commonly observed in intensive pig farms (belly-nosing, fights, tail-biting, diarrhoea and castration without pain control) and farmers' conception and attitudes towards pig welfare. We identified many management and animal-based indicators of poor welfare, such as the use of painful and stressful management practices and use of environments that limit the expression of natural behaviours. However, most farmers were satisfied with animal welfare standards at their farms. Farmers' perceptions are aligned with their understanding of animal welfare. Although they identified all the dimensions that impact the welfare of a pig on a farm (affect, biological functioning and naturalness), their social reality, industry demands and available advice pushed them to perceive their range of action limited to biological and environmental aspects of the animals that do not necessarily benefit affective state. This precluded farmers from making associations between good health and the animal's ability to express a full behavioural repertoire, as well as from viewing abnormal behaviours as problems. The negative consequences for the welfare of the animals were commonly alleviated by routines that relied on constant use of medication, including high dependence on antibiotics. Expressions of estrangement from the production chain were common voices among the participants. This suggests that farmers may not be sufficiently informed or engaged in responding to consumers' expectations and commitments made by companies, which can pose a severe economic risk for farmers. The findings of this study indicate that economic, technical and social factors restrict farmers' autonomy and their ability to perform their role as stewards of animal welfare. (Re)connecting different human, animal and environmental interests may be a step to changing this scenario.


Animal health; Antibiotic use and resistance attitudes; Empathy; One Welfare; Perception

Published in

2021, Volume: 15, number: 3, article number: 100154

    Associated SLU-program

    AMR: Bacteria

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Animal and Dairy Science
    Social Sciences Interdisciplinary

    Publication identifier


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