Permitted forms of animal housing

Animal-friendly? Far from it!

Tied up 275 days a year – that’s the fate of many dairy cows in Switzerland. In other words, cows are forced to feed, stand and lie in the smallest of spaces. If a so-called cow trainer is part of the stable infrastructure, the cows are regularly abused with electric shocks to avoid them from soiling their bedding with excrements. Although the law stipulates ensuring that the animals be able to move and exercise, in practice, this is limited to only a few hours per day. Cows held in free-stall barns fair better. In such housing, they are allowed to move around freely and also have access to lying boxes – even if the lying boxes are often not particularly spacious. However, the price for a bit of movement often involves the cows having to do without their horns – because horns are considered to be too dangerous.


Incentives for improvements

Within the scope of support programs such as BTS (particularly animal-friendly housing in stables) and RAUS (regular exercise outdoors), the Swiss Confederation pays financial contributions to animal owners who pay more attention to animal welfare and offer their animals conditions going beyond the legal minimum. 80% of dairy cow farmers participate voluntarily in the RAUS program – a step towards improved animal welfare.


Fattening without exercise

As a rule, fattening calves are not allowed to move around freely outdoors. Only approx. 20% of fattening cattle farmers participate in the RAUS program. Many calves still suffer from a lack of iron caused by intentional malnutrition in order to obtain pale veal.


Fed cattle, bulls and oxen spend the majority of their lives in stables with full gap floors. Such floors shall remain allowed until 2013. They are hard, non-deformable, often slippery and dirty and do not allow for species-appropriate movement or social behavior. As of 2013, a certain share of such full gap floors must be covered with a hard rubber mat to serve as "lying surfaces" (Lospa floors). Litter and exercise, however, remain voluntary. A fed animal weighing 500 kg has a maximum space of 3 m2 at its disposal. The share of farmers participating in the RAUS program in this specific case amounts to 60%.


No luck!

Also in pig farming, animal welfare is not really an issue. There is no obligation to ensure exercise for mother sows. And for fattened pigs, full gap floors will remain permitted until 2018. As of then, only part of the fattening bay must consist of solid floor (concrete is also allowed). Litter and exercise are not stipulated in pig fattening. Approx. half of all pigs are able to benefit from the RAUS program.


Most pigs are not fed in an animal-appropriate manner. The consistence of the feed ("soup") as well as the computer-steered feeding at the corresponding stations are not in line with the natural feeding behavior or the social requirements of the animals.


Overfilled hen houses

Housing requirements towards chicken are stricter in Switzerland than in EU member states. However: in Switzerland as well, high stocking rates and population densities are allowed and exercise is not stipulated by the law. The share of laying hen farmers participating in the RAUS program amounts to 70%; only 30% of fattened cockerel, however, are allowed to exercise on a regular basis.


Climbing animals primarily roped up

Until 2018, sheep and goats may be roped up for the largest part of the year. These animals, however, need to be able to move freely outdoors on a regular basis – and this, for at least 60 days during the vegetation period and since 2010, for at least 30 days during winter. With immediate effect, it is prohibited to tie up the animals in new barns and stables.


Single housing

The housing of rabbits still needs to be improved upon to a large degree. Rabbits are housed one by one, in small stables - and in a manner that does not meet their requirements. Most of the rabbit meat consumed worldwide stems from battery cages – a current example of the industrial exploitation of animals.


In Switzerland, at least professional rabbit holders seem to increasingly practice more animal-friendly group housing. 40% of the fattened animals stem from such farms. However, there are still approx. 2,700 farms entitled to receive direct payments where the rabbits are not allowed to exercise or to live in groups.


Better animal welfare

Gruppe von Mastschweinen im strukturierten Auslauf. Schweinehaltung in Mettmenstetten (ZH), im Werk- und Wohnheim zur Weid.
© G. Trachsel