Welfare assessment of laying hens in furnished cages and non-cage systems: assimilating expert opinion
It is extremely difficult to carry out an assessment of welfare in an entirely objective manner. The choice of welfare indicators, as well as the assignment of relative weightings to these indicators, both involve a certain degree of subjectivity. The aim of this study was to create a possible method of dealing with this subjectivity, using the opinions of groups of experts to increase the consensus for a protocol for the on-farm assessment of laying-hen welfare. The selection of the 17 separate welfare indicators was based both on a questionnaire submitted to 18 international poultry welfare experts and on the practical feasibility of collecting the respective data during a one-day farm visit. Subsequently, a second group of 13 experts was asked to assign relative weightings to the welfare indicators in this protocol. This assessment was carried out twice, once with and once without provision of detailed information on the welfare indicators. When detailed information was provided, the weightings assigned to the welfare indicators were generally lower than when no detailed information was provided. In conclusion, subjectivity regarding the choice of welfare indicators and the assignment of their relative weightings, can be dealt with and made transparent by seeking consensus among experts. Although the choice of experts, the methodology for extracting consensus data, and the nature and amount of information on the welfare indicators that should be provided, are likely to benefit from further refinement, the data presented in this study should be valuable for the development and application of formalised protocols for an integrated assessment of the welfare of laying hens, on-farm.
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