How to manage animal health

Animals, just like people, can get sick, no matter the farming practices, and they require proper care from the veterinarian and the farmer. Reducing animal infections is also important for improving food safety and yields and reducing animal suffering. Good husbandry, biosecurity and hygiene are the cornerstones of protecting animal health and welfare on Europe’s farms.

The farmer manages animal health in partnership with a veterinarian and other agricultural advisers. It begins with animal selection, where the farmer looks for traits such as longevity of animals, robustness, resource use efficiency, and environmental impact. And it continues with an animal health management plan which includes concepts such as biosecurity measures, suitable housing, good hygiene, appropriate nutrition, regular monitoring of health and welfare, including vaccination when advised, and treatment of illness when necessary.

The use of vaccination to prevent disease, along with good farm hygiene, herd health plans, and good nutrition, are the first steps in reducing the occurrence of bacterial disease. Farmers adhere to the concept that prevention is always better than cure. The use of diagnostics and other innovative technologies like digital monitoring can also assist with earlier disease detection and help support more targeted health management.

Animal breeding is crucial in improving animal welfare while addressing the critical issues of food safety and public health, product quality, and preserving genetic diversity. For example, the genetic improvement of pigs, poultry and fish over the past 30 years has, together with animal nutrition science, allowed for a significant improvement in the feed conversion ratio without affecting animal welfare. Farm animals have effectively become more efficient in converting feed into an animal product, meaning farmers have needed less feed for their herd to obtain the same or even better results.

This means a financial gain for the farmer, but it also has an environmental advantage due to less manure production and, therefore, less nitrogen excretion. Less need for feed is also considered an efficient use of resources, an integral part of sustainability.