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Attitudes of Australian sheep farmers to animal welfare
Previous research has indicated that Australian sheep farmers believe that long-term welfare issues, such as parasite control and poor stockmanship, are more important welfare problems for sheep than short-term painful procedures, such as castration, whereas the reverse was true for
animal welfare activists. There is therefore an incongruity between the welfare issues that Australian livestock farmers believe to be most serious on their properties and those that are the focus of activist campaigns. This could either be due to farmers becoming desensitized over time to
the exhibition of pain by their stock following invasive procedures or because of their better understanding of the factors affecting their animals' welfare. A nominated sample of 22 Australian sheep farmers were visited to conduct semi-structured interviews on the major welfare problems on
their properties and those facing the industry, as well as factors influencing their sensitivity to animal welfare issues and how these had changed over time. Responses were examined for themes, and a report was circulated to the farmers with mean responses and anonymised common viewpoints
in a Delphi process. Sheep farmers reported that poor nutrition was considered the biggest welfare issue on their farms, but public opposition to the mulesing operation was recognised as the biggest challenge for the industry. Farmers proclaimed a caring attitude towards their animals, which
they believed was mostly self generated, influenced in part by their spouse and father. Most farmers thought that their sensitivity to welfare was unchanged over time. They also considered that husbandry advances had improved the welfare of their animals over the course of their involvement
in the industry. Farmers made little use of pain control, mainly because of the cost and time required to administer it. The importance of long term welfare issues, in particular nutrition, was confirmed in interviews with the sheep farmers. There was little evidence of farmers becoming desensitized
to pain responses in their sheep, although they did not generally seek to mitigate these with pain relief.
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