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Welfare assessment: indices from clinical observation

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It is not enough to study animal welfare; our responsibility is to promote it. To this end, we need to step out of our laboratories and develop robust protocols for assessing welfare in groups of animals on farms or in the laboratory. While these protocols must incorporate principles derived from detailed scientific study they will, in practice, need to be based on clinical observations and records that an assessor can acquire at a single visit. Such assessments must also be comprehensive: approaches based only on behaviour, or motivational state, or physical appearance, or performance records, can never tell the full story. The 'Five Freedoms' provide a comprehensive template that incorporates the different elements that define welfare state. However they only describe welfare at the time of observation. Protocols, for example, for on-farm assessment need to include measurements and records that provide evidence of long-term consequences of the quality of husbandry practices (eg body condition, chronic injuries). This paper reviews approaches developed at Bristol for the on-farm evaluation of welfare in dairy cows and free-range hens. The criteria used to assess welfare from clinical evidence were developed through expert consultation using the 'Delphi' review process. Experts were also asked to make value judgements as to the seriousness of different elements of poor welfare by indicating the point at which intervention would be necessary to resolve specific problems. This study identified a serious limitation of Quality Assurance schemes that seek to encompass many different elements of welfare into a single index that ranks overall welfare as acceptable or unacceptable. Specific farms had specific welfare problems and these required specific solutions.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2004

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