Although the welfare of farm mink has been debated for decades, the status at mink farms has not previously been reported. Likewise, little is known about the variation in housing conditions and animal responses between mink farms, although relevant for identifying key opportunities and challenges. We present for the first time comparable data on animal welfare at mink farms across the European continent, sampled by impartial assessors, trained in the standardised WelFur-Mink protocol including 22 indicators. The assessment was based on three visits – one in each annual production season – on 2104 farms in 23 European countries, evaluating a representative sample of 90–120 cage units per assessment during 2017–19. Based on the aggregated scores for the four Welfare Quality® principles 1. Good feeding, 2. Good housing, 3. Good health and 4. Appropriate behaviour, the farms reaching certification were categorised as ‘Unacceptable’ (none), ‘Acceptable’ (0.8%), ‘Good’ (71.7%) or ‘Best’ (27.5%) current practice. To our knowledge, WelFur is the first full-scale implementation of Welfare Quality®-based assessment protocols in an entire continent. Although most assessed farms ended in the second-best category, the variation in results between farms allows for ample improvement in the welfare of mink. In general, farms in Denmark together with farms in Poland, the Netherlands, Lithuania, Italy, Finland and Sweden appeared relatively close in the average score of the 12 criteria and represented more than 90% of 2104 farms. Particularly the farming situation under the principle Good housing fulfilled the WelFur goals, which we suggest reflects a high degree of standardisation of mink housing systems, aligned with the current legislation, and a lack of scientific studies of alternatives outperforming the current cage units with nest boxes. The lowest aggregated scores were for the principle Appropriate behaviour for which the criterion ‘Expression of social behaviours’ contributed with the lowest scores. This result reflects mainly variable management for the weaning procedures and the use of group housing during parts of the annual production year of mink. All the relatively low scoring criteria had a moderate to high variance between mink farms, indicating challenges displaying some variation. The farms that did well in each of the 22 indicators illustrate what is possible on commercial farms. This situation paves the way for using high-scoring farms as inspiration and incentive for improving the mink welfare on low-scoring farms.
|Publication Title||Applied Animal Behaviour Science|
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