Bridging consumer perception and on-farm assessment of animal welfare
The present study aims to assess the relationship between consumer perception and on-farm assessment of animal welfare performed using the Animal Needs Index 35L (ANI). Two tie-stall, 2 straw yard and 2 cubicle farms were scored by trained assessors using the ANI and filmed to produce
six 3.5 min videos. Each of them contained 4 clips: barn overall view, feeding, milking and individual animals. Ten untrained observers were asked to elicit terms describing how they perceived the observed farming systems to affect animal welfare using Free Choice Profiling (FCP). Data from
FCP were subjected to Generalised Procrustes Analysis (GPA). GPA showed a significant consensus among observers. Observers characterised the first dimension with terms ranging from constrictive to comfortable conditions and the second one in terms of cleanliness/dirtiness. Principal Component
Analysis (PCA) was conducted using the scores of the farms on the first two dimensions of GPA and the data gathered through the ANI. The first dimension of GPA (Comfortable), ANI's sheet 1 (Locomotion), sheet 2 (Social interaction) and sheet 6 (Total score) showed high loadings on the first
component of PCA, whereas the second dimension of GPA (Clean), sheet 3 (Flooring) and sheet 4 (Stockmanship) were correlated with the second component of PCA. We concluded that FCP may be used to elicit lay person perception of welfare-related characteristics of dairy cattle farming systems,
thus providing a tool to study the relationships between consumer perception and on-farm assessment of animal welfare.