Fear And Stress In Animal Welfare And Productivity

SPAIN - Aware of the fact that animal welfare has become a salient issue, Boehringer Ingelheim held its 4th International Expert Forum on Farm Animal Well-Being on 27th May in Seville.
calendar icon 13 June 2011
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4th Boehringer Ingelheim Expert Forum on Farm-Animal Well-Being

The Forum’s first section, ‘Reducing human-induced stress in farm animals’, showed that farmers’ behaviour has a great impact on animals’ productivity and health.

"There is an association between negative stockperson behaviour and an animal’s fear response," stated Paul Hemsworth (University of Melbourne, Australia). Because fear greatly influences stress physiology, if we intervene to improve human-animal relationships, we have an opportunity to improve productivity and health, he underscored.

In the same sense, Jenny Gibbons (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, BC, Canada) explained that fearful animals have been associated with poor welfare and decreased productivity and health. She suggested that behavioural traits that ‘can contribute to farm profitability’ should thus also be considered in breeding selection.

Taking a complementary approach, Xavier Boivin (INRA, France) and Marko Ruis (Wageningen University, the Netherlands) introduced the Quality Handling training programme, aimed at optimising stockperson behaviour to reduce animals’ fear and, ultimately, improve productivity, welfare, health, handling ease and job satisfaction.

Tom Noffsinger (cattle feedyard consultant, US) likewise emphasised this aspect. "Much of the variation in feedyard morbidity and death rates may be attributable to people," he noted. "Consequently, we need to empower caregivers to make every human-cattle interaction a positive experience for both parties."

In the second section, entitled ‘Improving the welfare of newborn animals’, Ken Leslie (University of Guelph, Canada) explained the consequences of dystocia for newborn calves (e.g. metabolic acidosis, trauma, hypoxia, increased mortality or failure of passive immune transfer), comparing them to ‘a bad car accident’.

Cathy Dwyer (SAC, Edinburgh, UK) added that birth difficulty in sheep and cattle impairs the ability of the neonate to adjust to postnatal life and increases the likelihood of death of the animal before it becomes productive.

‘Reducing the incidence of difficult deliveries will improve both welfare and productivity’, she explained.

Xavier Manteca (Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain) showed that pigs are no exception to this rule either. "The welfare of sows at farrowing may affect neonatal mortality," he underscored. He also presented the results of a study that suggest that the administration of the NSAID Metacam® to sows after farrowing may allow for faster recovery.

The third section sought to respond to the question ‘Does improved animal welfare offer a good return on investment?’

"Farmers are a highly diverse group of people," stated Becky Whay (University of Bristol, UK).

"Economics alone is not a stimuli to encourage them to solve a welfare problem. We need good knowledge of cost-efficient solutions and to find out farmer’s motivations, as well as ways to overcome any barriers for the implementation of those solutions," she added.

Alistair Lawrence (SAC, United Kingdom) said that to increase consumer demands for animal welfare, we need a better understanding of consumers’ attitudes and behaviours.

Enhanced welfare has both direct and hidden benefits that may offset the associated costs. However, in recent years, other societal concerns have emerged, such as those surrounding climate change and food security. "We need to bring animal welfare into that debate. We must not leave it out," Mr Lawrence concluded.

The Forum’s presentations demonstrated that there is an urgent need to raise farmers' awareness of basic and easy-to-implement guidelines for interaction with their animals and to communicate these guidelines directly to the farming community.

As noted by Dr Frank Duering of Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health, the Forum is ‘full of new aspects that just ten or fifteen years ago were not on anyone’s agenda’. Indeed, it has become something of an institution.


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