Evaluating a concept for an animal welfare assessment system providing decision support using qualitative interviews
Qualitative interviews of farmers were carried out as part of a project focusing on developing animal welfare assessment systems (AWASs) in dairy, pig and mink production systems (26 farms in total). The aims of the interviews were to investigate farmers' perceptions and experience of how an AWAS worked, and to explore their expectations for future use of AWASs. All interviews were taped, transcribed and analysed using a grounded-theory approach. The importance of different elements of the AWAS differed between farmers, and between farmers and the AWAS project implementation group. More direct associations between welfare assessment and production results (and other 'common measures') were requested by farmers. The whole AWAS 'package' was viewed as being too complex and expensive for most farmers, particularly as it involved multiple assessments over time. A range of themes emerged from the analysis. One of these, here referred to as 'us and them', is explored and discussed in this paper. Farmers were concerned that the AWAS could be used negatively in relation to consumers and political decisions, and they underlined that if the AWAS was to be used as a decision support tool (ie a system to assist them in making decisions about improvements in their herds and to guide their initiatives and improvements), it should include dialogue and details of local farm conditions. Qualitative interviews were found to provide valuable insight into farmers' perceptions and expectations of animal welfare assessment methods.
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