Problem areas for farm animal welfare in Ireland: podcast from Newstalk’s Pat Kenny Show

Current European and national Irish animal welfare legislation has been carefully designed to protect animal welfare. However enforcement of this legislation is inconsistent. This week’s podcast discusses the various areas where implementation of the rules in Ireland need to be tightened up. Listen to the podcast at the foot of this page.


The vast majority of Irish pigs have their tails routinely docked within days of birth despite the fact that routine tail docking of pigs has been illegal in the EU since 2008.  The reason the pigs’ tails are docked is to reduce the incidence of tail-biting amongst pigs, which would likely cause serious welfare problems and production losses on Irish farms if tails were not docked. The reason why pigs bite each other’s tails is excessive stress caused by a range of factors, but primarily by overcrowding, poor housing and barren environments. Rather than improve the conditions in which pigs are kept, Irish farmers (like most other EU farmers) continue to use tail-docking to manage this problem.

Beef cattle and sheep

Irish farmers carry out mutilations (and that is not emotive: it is the legal term) such as castration and dehorning or disbudding of cattle, and castration and tail-docking of Sheep, on millions of farm animals each year, without the use of any anaesthetic or painkiller. This is quite legal in young animals and scientific evidence indicates that the pain caused by these procedures in young animals wears off within a couple of days.  However, the pain is much more severe and longer lasting in older animals.  It is illegal to castrate cattle over the age of 6 months, or dehorn calves over the age of 2 weeks, or dock lambs’ tails over the age of 8 days, without the use of anaesthesia and painkillers, yet these procedures are carried out on tens of thousands of cattle and sheep over the legal age limit without any form of pain relief each year.

Dairy cattle

Animal welfare issues are also developing in the Irish dairy industry.  The massive increase in the dairy herd in recent years has caused overcrowding on many dairy farms and breeding developments have led to the proliferation of low value “bobby” calves, with evidence of neglect on many farms and even rumors of starvation to death in some cases.


I need to stress that I believe that traditional Irish livestock farming does, indeed, have high animal welfare standards, but it would be wrong to deny or ignore the above issues. They can be corrected without upsetting the profitability or functioning of Irish farms, but if they are ignored, they will not be corrected. And in time, the issues will get even worse, and when they eventually do become widely recognised, this will reflect very badly on Irish farming. So for the sake of the future of Irish farming, they should be addressed now, not later.
I am not a hard hitting vegan or even vegetarian, but I am against intensive farming practices that result in the maltreatment of animals. All animals deserve a life worth living, and a death that is free of fear or pain. I believe this is possible, and indeed I believe that traditional Irish farming achieves this goal.  However, we do not to be watchful to ensure that this continues to be the case.

The upcoming European and local elections

A new political party has been formed with the aim of creating a better world for animals in Ireland,. The group is not fielding any candidates in the election, but they have cast a critical eye over the existing political parties and their review may be of interest to animal lovers who wish to use their democratic voice to influence how animals are treated in this country. They have given ratings to each political party for animal welfare policies. The scores are being updated as the various parties respond to queries on their policies.

Questions from pet owners

The following questions were answered during the podcast

  • Our cat has started to scratch the wallpaper and furniture in our new house. How can we stop him doing this?
  • A friend is feeding their cat dog food. Is it OK to do this?
  • My daughter’s one year old rescue dog is very nervous, and she piddles small amounts when visitors arrive and greet her. What can we do?
  • Our three year old Jack Russell is a nightmare. He is very aggressive when visitors arrive at the house, biting at their clothes and barking furiously at the window if anybody passes the house. What can we do?
  • A thirteen year old Labrador has gone missing from home for the past day in a rural location. He had been suffering from heart disease. Is it true that animals deliberately go away to die when they know they are close to the end?

Pete also did a Facebook Live video Q&A which you can watch here.

Listen to the podcast:

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