High welfare farming addresses the needs of animals first, ensuring that every animal has access to clean water, fresh air, appropriate feed, and a stress-free environment. The opportunity to exhibit natural behaviors such as ranging, foraging, rooting, and grooming is also a requisite.
Access to pasture or foraging areas is critical in meeting the animals’ innate behavioral needs, and is fundamental to this kind of farming approach. As animals are social creatures, high welfare farms are designed to allow them to form natural family groups and hierarchies while offering protection from extremes of temperature, thirst, hunger, and fear.
In a high welfare system, farmers focus on promoting health rather than simply treating disease. Farmers work to enhance the animals’ natural immunity to resist commonplace diseases rather than relying on veterinary intervention. In high welfare systems, farmers use antibiotics solely to treat sick animals, not to reinforce poorly designed, disease-prone systems or promote unnatural growth.
Animals bred exclusively for productivity traits, such as high milk production in dairy cows, will be more susceptible to disease and may suffer from physiological problems, as well. However in high welfare systems, farmers select breeds for their ability to thrive in the local farm environment. Because the farming system is designed to suit the needs of the animal—rather than maximizing productivity at all costs—high welfare farmers don’t rely on painful mutilations (such as tail docking piglets to prevent biting) that are deemed “necessary” when large numbers of animals are confined in small spaces.