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This blog post was published under the 2015-2024 Conservative Administration

Our priorities for the Animal Health and Welfare Pathway

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Payments to improve animal health and welfare
Mix breed cattle
Copyright Paul Glendell/Natural England

Today, we published our initial priorities for the Animal Health and Welfare Pathway.

They represent some of the best opportunities for improving animal health and welfare we have across each livestock sector. In this post, I’ll share those priorities. 

A recap

But first, a brief recap. The Animal Health and Welfare Pathway offers financial support to farmers who take actions that directly improve the health and welfare of their animals. Beyond financial assistance, the Pathway is designed to stimulate market demand for higher welfare products and continue to raise our already world-leading animal health and welfare standards. The Pathway will also seek to strengthen the regulatory baseline. 

We've co-designed every element of the Pathway.  We’re grateful to all the farmers, academics, vets and people from the wider industry who helped to shape our plans. 

Through the Pathway, farmers will be able to apply for funding for: 

  • an Annual Health and Welfare Review with their chosen vet
  • Animal Health and Welfare Grants for investments in equipment, technology and infrastructure
  • disease eradication and control programmes
  • payment by results for ongoing costs

We plan to launch the first parts of the Pathway – annual health and welfare review and animal health and welfare grants - this year.  We’ll be continuing to explore the potential for payment by results for ongoing costs during this year and into 2023.

We want to make sure the Pathway works for farmers and makes a difference, so you will soon be able to share your ideas for items we should include within our Animal Health and Welfare Grants offer.

Your industry representatives will soon send out a questionnaire, so look out for it and do please share your views.

Working together to settle priorities

We worked hard to settle the animal welfare priorities for the Pathway. We worked closely with industry, vets, non-government organisations and welfare scientists to develop them. As you can imagine, sometimes different stakeholders had different views and the final result represents a compromise between them, but we are positive about the outcome.

Our welfare priorities are presented below alongside priority endemic diseases and conditions which were previously published in November 2020.  Supporting better stockmanship will be an overarching priority across all sectors, as a critical enabler for good health and welfare.

Meat chickens

For meat chickens, our priorities are to: 

  • implement the Better Chicken Commitment which requires slower-growing breeds, lower stocking densities and restrictions on thinning birds. These all contribute to improved health and welfare outcomes, such as fewer leg disorders
  • adopt welfare-improving technology to support environmental and behavioural monitoring and better stockmanship  

Laying hens

For laying hens, our priorities are to:

  • transition out of cages: we are exploring potential reforms around the use of enriched cages for laying hens, which can restrict hens’ normal behaviour such as dustbathing. The Pathway will support producers shifting away from their use
  • improve feather cover management: we want to support farmers to address the underlying root causes of feather pecking, reducing the need for infra-red beak trimming
  • improve keel bone health to reduce laying hens’ susceptibility to painful fractures which can occur in all production systems


For pigs, our priorities are to:

  • improve biosecurity to control endemic pig diseases and help prevent the introduction of exotic disease threats
  • tackle Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome virus which costs the industry an estimated £52 million each year and increases antibiotic use
  • reduce sow confinement during farrowing: by supporting producers in shifting to less confined alternatives for the sow, whilst ensuring the welfare of her piglets. We are also exploring potential reforms around the use of farrowing crates, which can restrict sows’ normal behaviour such as nesting
  • reduce stressors to keep tails intact: we want to support farmers in addressing the underlying causes of high stress levels in pigs which trigger tail biting, such as poor environmental enrichment, so that farmers feel confident to not dock tails

Cattle (beef and dairy)

For cattle (beef and dairy), our priorities are to:

  • tackle Bovine Viral Diarrhoea which costs the industry an estimated £14 million each year and raises greenhouse gas emissions from cattle
  • reduce lameness and mastitis to improve health and welfare, increase productivity and decrease the environmental impacts of farming
  • upgrade housing: many farm buildings are not optimally designed for cattle, especially calves - we will encourage improvements in ventilation, cow comfort, loafing areas and enrichments such as scratching brushes
  • improve pain management during disbudding, dehorning and castration through greater adoption of prolonged analgesia to improve the welfare and performance of calves
  • improve the welfare of cattle at pasture through improvements in shelter, drainage, gateways and tracks that support the normal behaviours associated with grazing and being outdoors  


For sheep, our priorities are to:

  • tailor health screening to address a range of endemic diseases, estimated to cost the sector around £85 million each year - initially this will focus on internal and external parasites (and associated anthelmintic resistance), mastitis, ‘iceberg’ diseases and those inducing abortion
  • reduce lameness as it is one of the most common signs of ill health and discomfort among sheep, affecting animals’ mobility, productivity and longevity
  • better ewe sustainability, optimising body condition so that ewes are less susceptible to disease, produce better quality milk and can rear a greater number of healthier lambs
  • improve pain management during castration and tail docking: we want to support the licensing and uptake of pain relief to reduce the impact of these procedures

Whether it be: upgrading housing for your cattle to deliver improvements in lameness, cow comfort and calf mortality; working with your vet to control key endemic diseases affecting your flock; gradually moving your hens to cage-free environments; or improving biosecurity on your pig unit, we’ve designed the Pathway so that our priorities cover something applicable to most farms. 

If you have any questions about our work, please leave a comment below. Don’t forget to subscribe to the blog for the latest updates on our work and to find out when the Animal Health and Welfare Pathway launches.

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  1. Comment by Donna Day Lafferty posted on

    Dear Team,
    Your post says "offers financial support to farmers who take actions that directly improve the health and welfare of their animals." I may have missed something but having followed the links, I cannot see how to submit an application for this funding. Perhaps you could add a link directly to the grant page in this post?
    With many thanks,

  2. Comment by alex welch posted on

    just querying the remark BVD raises greenhouse emissions from cattle- what is your rationale?

    • Replies to alex welch>

      Comment by AHW Pathway Team posted on

      Thank you for your query Alex. The Defra-commissioned report ' Study to Model the Impact of Controlling Endemic Cattle Diseases and Conditions on National Cattle Productivity, Agricultural Performance and Greenhouse Gas Emissions' by ADAS in February 2015 shows that BVD is one of several endemic diseases that raise greenhouse gas emissions in cattle.

      Best wishes, The AHW Pathway Team

  3. Comment by Tam Mayor posted on

    This sounds interesting.

    Does the funding cover infrastructure costs for managing grazing differently - such as using mob grazing/rotational or holistic planned grazing which have been shown to reduce lameness & mastitis?

    Would 'at pasture' measures such as changing open pasture to wood pasture - thereby offering trees/hedges as shelter to cattle that could then potentially be outside all year round attract funding from this pathway? This could be a better option than putting up buildings and equipping them with more 'cow comfort' options, saving money for Defra and farmers, and offering more natural habitat in which sheep and cattle can display their normal behaviour?

    And, as comment above, how do farmers go about accessing this funding?

    Many thanks.

    • Replies to Tam Mayor>

      Comment by AHW Pathway Team posted on

      Thank you for showing an interest in the funding on offer through the Animal Health and Welfare Pathway, Tam, and your suggestions regarding pasture management. These have been passed onto our grants policy team for consideration.

      The funding will be flexible to the needs of each farm, with both smaller value items and bespoke larger-value infrastructure investments available. The grants will be aimed at items and projects that deliver the best animal health and welfare outcomes, including those that promote positive behaviours and welfare.

      Farmers could also be eligible for Defra's Environmental Land Management schemes which may offer complementary improvements in animal health and welfare on farm, so please do look into these options as well.

      Applications for the AHW Pathway are not yet open, but we will start testing the first annual health and welfare reviews in summer 2022, and we’ll steadily increase these by invitation over the summer before opening to eligible keepers in autumn 2022. Grants are planned for later in 2022 and we will provide an update on the blog when applications do open.

      With thanks, The AHW Pathway Team

  4. Comment by Julie posted on

    Will I have the chance to apply in the future ? I ve been following the info since Feb but missed the june deadline due to family health issues but it’s all relevant to our farm and We fit the criteria


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