Work Package 1: Detail



As a starting point, WP1 will produce a list of relevant animal-based indicators, including pain, indicators for each species and discuss their inclusion in assessment protocols during an Expert Group Meeting. The inclusion of each indicator in the protocols will be based on the validity, feasibility and reliability of the parameter. The development of suitable indicators will be supported by close integration with WP2 and WP3 and will serve as a basis for selecting measures to be used for welfare evaluation of pain and prenatal stress studies.

The resulting protocols will be submitted to a network of stakeholders to increase the acceptability on the welfare assessment procedure and to identify possible solutions to potential barriers to the application in practice.

According to the results of the studies in each species (see below) and the stakeholders' feedback, final protocols will be tested in different countries and different production systems (e.g. intensive, pastoral systems) by trained assessors.

The final goal will be to propose a stepwise strategy for practical on-farm animal welfare assessment. The protocols will offer, initially, a quick screening, which depending on the outcomes could evolve into a more in-depth assessment.


Welfare assessment protocols for sheep

Sheep can be reared under a diversity of conditions, even within the same farm: from free range grazing exposed to natural hazards and surveillance depending exclusively on the availability of pasture resources, to full time indoors management and relatively high-tech facilities. In temperate countries the environmental conditions usually evolve through the productive cycle depending on the season and the physiological status of the sheep. In consequence, the number and quality of human-sheep interactions can be equally very diverse, as well as the potential impact of farming practices on animal welfare.

Although the traditional link of sheep with nature and grazing is commonly envisaged by the general public as providing better welfare standards than intensive systems, certain situations may affect negatively the physiological and health status of the animals. These situations may result for example in poor body condition, high levels of mortality, abortion, lameness, or mastitis.

Identification of painful conditions is particularly challenging in sheep, since the species has developed throughout the evolution process effective mechanisms to avoid showing evident signs. The presence of the fleece can make this task even more difficult. Our objective is to develop and refine protocols to objectively assess welfare and pain in sheep at the animal level. We will also evaluate how animal based indicators relate to crucial environmental conditions such as flooring, group size, animal densities and the human-animal interactions. In order to test the validity, reliability and feasibility of these protocols, they will be tested in commercial flocks representative of different sheep farming systems.

Welfare assessment protocols for goats

In a first stage we will perform a literature review to identify studies that have been conducted using different indicators for evaluation of goat welfare. We will then select adequate behavioural and physiological measures, that may be applicable both in intensive and extensive goat farms. Some examples are lameness scores, body condition scores, avoidance distance test to unknown person, cleanliness, indicators of negative and positive emotions, presence of abnormal behaviours, measures of social functioning, among many others. In order to assess the validity, feasibility and reliability of these parameters we will develop field experiments and explore new techniques to evaluate them, we are particularly interested in those techniques that allow a minimal contact with the animals, because of the particular characteristics of this specie and because we want to assess these parameters without changing routine functioning of farms.

We also acknowledge that there will be the need to include not only animal based indicators but also about indicators related to the conditions on the farms and their management, as they are paramount for animal welfare. As a result of this work we will produce a list of relevant animal-based, including pain, and management-environmental based indicators. Each indicator in the protocols will be tested for it's validity, feasibility and reliability in up to 100 goat farms with different production systems (e.g. intensive, pastoral systems) located in different countries.

In the last stage of the project will use a focus group approach to extract the most relevant indicators for the protocol. The inter- and intra-observer repeatability will be verified for all feasible parameters by comparing the results of the evaluation made by three different observers.

Welfare assessment protocols for turkeys

Main welfare concerns in turkey production are suspected related to their intrinsic growth rate and conformation characteristics, which may affect the incidence of leg problems. Some of the pathologies may be painful, and may deter the normal activity of the animals. Likewise for other poultry, deterioration of the environmental quality due for example to an incorrect air quality control, bedding characteristics, or management practices may also lead to health problems or undue stress that are costly for the animals, and for the poultry industry themselves.

The objective of our work is to determine reliable parameters to objectively measure welfare and pain in turkeys at the individual level. In a first step these parameters will be selected from the scientific literature, considering their reliability, feasibility and its practical application in commercial systems. In a second step, selected parameters will be tested under diverse experimental and commercial scenarios.

This work will be conducted jointly by the teams at the University of Milan and Neiker (Spain). For the second phase of the study, turkey flocks will be monitored at the slaughterhouse. For each flock data will be collected to determine the prevalence of poor welfare indicators. The top and bottom farms will be selected for an on-farm evaluation.

These farms will be visited by a trained observer who will interview the farmer and will collect data on the farm characteristics, biosecurity procedures and general management practices. Furthermore, welfare parameters at the bird level will be evaluated on farm, and a test to detect human-animal interaction problems will also be conducted. From this study we will select the parameters that better predict poor and good welfare. In addition, a battery of experiments will be run to determine the impact of a range of environmental and social factors on the selected welfare indicators.

Welfare assessment protocols for horses and donkeys

In order to develop the horse and donkey welfare assessment protocols, UMIL and IASPRAGUE will carry out studies to investigate the validity, repeatability and feasibility of relevant animal based welfare indicators, following recommendation provided by the Experts Group.

Pain is a key issue non sufficiently addressed so far in previous welfare evaluation protocols for equines and the development of feasible, yet valid, pain indicators is considered paramount in AWIN. We expect that specific body postures and behaviours will be detected and validated as a reliable and feasible indicator of pain in equids. In addition to this, the approaches used in human infants, as standardized scales of facial expressions of pain, can provide a framework for animal pain assessment. On the basis of published research in children and mice, we aim to develop and validate a facial expressions pain scale for horses.

It can be expected that Qualitative Behaviour Assessment (QBA) will be selected as an indicator of positive welfare and studies will be designed to test the inter-observer reliability of a fixed rating scale for QBA of horses and donkeys expression.

The critical role of human-horse relationship for their mutual welfare is well recognized; hence validity, reliability and feasibility of tests for measuring human-animal relationships in horses and donkeys farms will be evaluated for their inclusion in the welfare protocols.

Besides housing condition and management the participation to competitions poses specific welfare concerns for horses that will be addressed here by developing valid animal based indicators of good/poor welfare with respect to different equestrian disciplines. Behavioural and physiological parameters, including stress and conflict behaviour, heart rate and visible lesions will be recorded on horses during or immediately after different types of competitions (show jumping, dressage, eventing, races, polo, vaulting, endurance, and reining)at three levels of difficulty (hobby, low/middle, National championship).

The outcomes of the experiments will enable the selection and inclusion of the best possible measures of horse and donkey welfare in the welfare assessment protocols.

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