Performance not reliable guide to stock welfare

Good yields don’t mean good welfare and relying on production as a welfare indictor is a mindset producers should move away from, particularly with increasing pressure from consumers.

This is according to the University of British Columbia’s Dan Weary, who said for good animal welfare the animal’s biological functions, affective state or feelings and the naturalness of the animal’s environment all need to be taken into account.

Speaking at Boehringer Ingelheim Expert Forum on farm animal well-being, Madrid, Spain, Prof Weary said the best solutions to animal welfare are those addressing all three concerns.

“We are missing part of the picture if we don’t include bits about naturalness or animal’s affective state and with public concerns becoming more prominent, it’s necessary to have systems that fulfil their expectations,” he said.

Disease and injury such as lameness and mastitis are widely seen as welfare concerns, but rarely is it considered that the rationing of food could incur suffering by inflicting hunger, which is often demonstrated by increased vocalisation by calves.

“In automated calf feeding systems, increasing the milk ration rather than restricting to twice a day can reduce the number of non-nutritive visits, freeing up access to other calves. This allows more natural feeding behaviour and reduces hunger,” he said.

“Calves are typically fed twice a day at 10% body weight, but when provided the opportunity calves will consume more than 10% of their bodyweight. This in turn means calves grow more rapidly, have better feed conversion and can lower age at first breeding.”

Also, presenting calves with a more natural way of feeding through a nipple rather than a bucket has shown a greater degree of relaxation after the meal. But, while cross-sucking can be a problem in group-housed milk-fed calves, this can be reduced when given free access to a teat.

“It’s likely sucking behaviour rather than ingestion of milk is responsible for reducing sucking motivation and by using nipple feeders in group housing, labour can be saved and it is also beneficial to calves.”