Animal welfare defined
Do you own a pet or have you ever taken care of an animal? If you have, then you know that it is important to take care of the animal and make sure that it is clean, fed and has a place to sleep. Whether the animal is a pet or used in research or agriculture, they require the same things. Excellent animal welfare practices help to ensure that every animal is well-cared for.
Animal welfare refers to an animal that is healthy, comfortable, well nourished, safe, able to express natural behaviors and is not suffering from pain, fear or stress. Good animal welfare requires disease prevention, veterinary treatment, appropriate shelter, management, and nutrition, humane handling and humane slaughter (AVMA, 2012) (OIE, 2010).
Ensuring animal welfare
It may be easy to say how animals should be treated, but how do you go about making sure that animals are properly taken care of? Animal scientists are able to assess and ensure animal welfare through several different ways including regulations, quality assurance programs and audits, and enrichment.
Both federal and state governments have legislation in place that protects animals and ensures animal welfare. The Animal Welfare Act regulates the humane treatment of animals used in research, exhibition, transport and by dealers. The Humane Methods of Slaughter Act is a federal law that requires the proper treatment and humane handling of all food animals at slaughter. Temple Grandin, an animal scientist at Colorado State University, works to ensure proper care of animals at slaughter facilities. The Twenty-Eight Hour law dictates that animals cannot be confined while travelling for more than 28 consecutive hours without unloading the animals for feed, water and rest. The Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee is a program that regulates the use of animals in research. It also provides researchers with the opportunity to become certified in proper handling of animals. See this page for a list of other animal welfare regulations.
Because not all farm animals are covered under the Animal Welfare Act, producers have set up their own animal welfare standards. The New York State Cattle Health Assurance Program (NYSCHAP) is a state-level program that brings together the farmer, employees, the herd veterinarian, a state veterinarian and farm consultants. They all work together to prevent health risks on the farm, ensure animal welfare and help the farm become animal welfare certified. Learn more about individual state programs here.
There are other programs that exist to provide animal welfare. The Pork Quality Assurance and Beef Quality Assurance are producer programs that ensure proper treatment of animals for an end result of higher quality products. The National Animal Health Monitoring System conducts national studies on the health and management of livestock so that improvements can be made in the future.
Many producers have now turned to animal welfare audits. There are conducted by third-party services that are not associated with any type of production group and are therefore unbiased. These audits provide an opportunity for producers ensure to consumers that their animals are being raised under humane conditions.
Enrichment for any type of animal includes giving them items to play with or that aid the animal in performing natural behaviors. Enrichment diversifies the area in which the animal lives so it does not become bored (FASS, 2010). Enrichment for all types of animals includes socialization with other animals and humans. Socialization for animals is important because they learn behaviors, like how to get along with other animals but also adjust to human actions.
Some pig producers have been providing pigs with different forms of enrichment to prevent boredom, reduce tail biting and aggression. Playing a radio in barns can help to keep pigs calm. Toys, such as balls and hoses, are hung from the ceiling for pigs to play with (Grandin et al., 1987).
A form of enrichment on dairy farms is a back scratcher for cows. The back scratcher helps the cow stay clean and comfortable. Check out this video to see the back scratcher in action!
Farms of all sizes help to ensure animal welfare by providing animals with clean water at all times, especially during hotter months, having a clean, dry place for animals to lie down and providing a shelter for the animals during inclement weather. Animal scientists know it is important to take care of their animals because their livelihood depends on it.
American Veterinary Medical Association. (2012). Animal welfare. Retrieved from http://www.avma.org/issues/animal_welfare/default.asp
Federation of Animal Science Societies. (2010). Guide for the care and use of agricultural animals in research and teaching. Federation of Animal Science Societies, 3, 1-177. Retrieved from http://www.fass.org/page.asp?pageID=216&autotry=true&ULnotkn=true
Grandin, T., Curtis, S. E., & Taylor, I. A. (1987). Environmental enrichment for confinement pigs; toys, mingling and driving reduces excitability in pigs. Journal of Animal Science, 65, 230-231.
OIE (World Organization for Animal Health). Chapter 7.1. Introduction to the recommendations for animal welfare. Terrestrial Animal Health Code 2010. Available at http://www.oie.int/.