Improving Animal Welfare: A Practical Approach (2nd Edition)

Edited by Dr. Temple Grandin
Colorado State University, USA

ISBN: 978-1-78064-467-7
c. 368 pages
131 figures/illustrations

Subject Classifcation: KNAC, PSVP, TVH, TW
Territorial Market Rights: World
Published by CABI

Links for ordering:


Chapter 2: The importance of measurement to improve the welfare of livestock, poultry, and fish.

by Temple Grandin, Colorado State University

This chapter covers the importance of using numerical scoring of animal based outcome measures. For example, there are huge differences between the best dairy farms and the worst dairy farms on the percentage of lame dairy cows and on the percentage of cattle with swollen hocks. This chapter contains photos and diagrams for scoring, leg conformation, and leg lesions on dairy cows and pigs.

Below is an excerpt from Chapter 2...

Manage Things You Measure

Livestock producers routinely measure weight gain, death losses and sickness but they may not be measuring painful or distressing conditions such as lameness, bruises or electric-goad use which severely compromises an animal’s welfare. Lameness is one of the most serious welfare problems in many species of livestock and poultry. Lameness definitely causes pain because giving dairy cows the anaesthetic lidocaine reduces it (Rushen et al., 2006; Flowers et al., 2007). People often fail to be effective managers of conditions tliar they do not measure. Lameness in intensively housed dairy cattle is a good example. Over a period of many years, lameness in dairy cows housed on concrete has become steadily worse. One of the reasons why this happened was due to the fact that nobody measured lameness until it became really bad. A recent British study showed that 16.2% of the dairy cows were lame Rutherford et al., 2009). Cows housed in freestall (cubicle) barns had an average of 24.6% of clinically lame cows (Espejo et al., 2006). However, in the top 10% of dairies lameness was only 5.4% (Espejo et al., 2006). Von Keyerlingk et al (2012) found in a more recent survey that the average percentage of lame cows had not improved. In Canda and the northern USA, it was over 27%. In England and Wales the average percentage of lame cows was 36.8% (Barker et al 2010). A British survey of 53 dairies indicated that on the best 20% of the dairies, only 0—6% of the cows were lame and on the 20% of the Worst dairies, 33—62% of the cows were lame (Webster, 2005a, b). This shows that good management can reduce lameness. Lameness is also a huge welfare concern in sows. In sows, 72% of the breeding animals that had to be culled were due to locomotion problems. The major cause of locomotion problems were arthritis 24% and fractures 16% (Kirk et al., 2005).

The author observed a big increase in lame slaughter weight pigs between 1995 and 2008. A major breeder of lean rapidly growing pigs did nothing about it in the USA until in some herds 50% of the slaughter weight pigs were clinically lame. They also had very poor leg conformation. This breeder was selecting for leanness, loin-eye size and rapid growth, and over a 10-year period they did not notice that there were more and more lame pigs. The increase in lameness was mainly genetic because the pigs were all housed on the same concrete slats that had been used for years. A recent US study indicated that 21% of the sows were lame (VanSickle, 2008). A study of sows in Minnesota indicated that risk of removal from the breeding herd increased when leg conformation was poor. Culling of breeding sows that was attributable to poor legs was 16.37%for the fore-limbs and 12.90% for the back legs Tiranti and Morrison, 2006). A study done in Spain showed that poor leg conformation was associated with higher sow culling rates (deSeville et al., 2008). Selecting breeding gilts with structurally correct feet and legs will provide better welfare and productivity.

Freestall (cubicle) dairies sorted by the best 20% to the worst 20% of farms for each welfare issue on 113 dairies (Source: adapted from Fulwider et al., 2007)
Percentage of cows on
Well-being issue Best 20% of farms Second best 20% of farms Middle 20% of farms Second worst 20% of farms Worst 20% of farms
Hock hair loss only 0-10 10.6-20 20.8-35.6 36.2-54.4 56-96.1
Hock swelling 0 0.7-1.7 1.9-4.2 4.2-11.9 7.4-12.5
Severe swellinga 0 0 0 0-1.5 1.8-10.7
Dirty cowsb 0-5 5.3-9.8 10.3-15.4 16.8-28.9 29.4-100
Thigh lesions 0 0 0 0 0-28.8
a Cows were rated on having a severe swelling if the worst leg had a swelling more than 7.4 cm (size of a baseball) in diameter or open or oozing injuries.
b Cows were rated as dirty if there was dried or wet manure on their body, belly, udder or uppoer portions of the leg.

Making Ethical Decisions

Scientific research shows that some behavioral needs are more important to the animal than others. For example, providing a secluded nest box is more important for a hen than providing a place to dust bathe (Widowski and Duncan, 2000). O’Hara and O’Connor (2007) state that there are priority behaviors that must be provided for in order to satisfy the minimum requirements for behavioral needs. The author recommends that the list in Quick Access Information 2.4 would satisfy the minimum behavioral requirements for livestock and poultry. Higher welfare systems would provide for additional behaviors such as dust bathing in poultry or mud wallows for pigs.

Science can provide information to help people make good decisions about animal welfare. However, there are some ethical concerns that science cannot answer (see Chapter 3, this volume). To help make good decisions, many governments and large meat buyers have animal welfare advisory councils. The author has served on these councils for livestock industry associations, major retailers, and restaurant chains. Most councils consist of scientific researchers in the field of welfare, animal advocacy groups, and lay people. They provide advice and guidance. In Europe, advisory councils make recommendations on legislation. In England, the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) has been advising.

Measurements and ethics
Numerical quantification of lameness, electric goad use, and feather pecking or other areas of welfare concern is a powerful tool for showing that practices or conditions have either improved or deteriorated. Some atrocious practices such as poking out an animal’s eye or cutting leg tendons to restrain cattle should be banned. However, it is impossible to eliminate lameness totally. Chapter 4 discusses practical ways to develop reasonable limits on the percentage of lame animals that would be permitted to pass a welfare audit. With good management, very low levels of lameness are possible. From an ethical standpoint, interpretation of physiological measures such as cortisol levels or heart rate is more difficult. What level of cortisol should be permitted? The most practical way to help people make ethical decisions about physiological measurements is to compare the stressful or painful treatment to a control condition that most people find acceptable, such as restraining the animal. It is best to evaluate physiological data by comparing it to a control condition within the same study with the same type of animals. There are extreme levels of physiological measures that most scientific experts on an advisory council would be able to say, "This is absolutely not acceptable"; for example, extremely high average levels of cortisol such as the 93 ng/ml average level reported by Dunn (1990) in cattle. The level is 30 units higher than acceptable cortisol levels, due to poor handling. It is important to use the AVERAGE level of a physiological measure in a group of animals. Individual animals can have great variation in stress levels. More information on assessing stress has been reviewed in Grandin (1997, 2014) and Knowles et al. (2014). Another example of conditions that are absolutely not acceptable is the capture myopathy cases that are described in Chapter 5, this volume.
The ethics of animal treatment versus the treatment of people
The author went to Mexico and saw a man with a skinny, sickly donkey. When my host asked him about the poor condition of his donkey, he pulled up his shirt to show us his skinny, bony chest with ribs that showed. He said, "I suffer too". Obviously, he cannot afford to feed his donkey because he can not afford to feed himself. It would be unethical to ask the man to feed all his family’s food to the donkey.

The most constructive way to implement improving animal welfare in this situation would be to show the man simple ways to help his donkey, to help him survive. Simple changes in the harness may prevent saddle sores, show the person how to take care of the animal's feet, and work with people in the community on donkey husbandry (see Chapter 17, this volume). He cannot afford to give the donkey more food, but some simple improvements in husbandry, such as providing plenty of water, could be taught to help the donkey live longer and be a more useful working animal. Numerical scoring of lameness, injuries, and deaths in many donkeys would help show the entire community that when you take care of your donkey’s welfare and you do not overload it, he will last longer. Even in the poorest country, there is never any justification for beating up animals or torturing them. Quick Access Information 2.5 shows where in this book to locate important welfare information.

Quick Access information 2.5: Where in the book to find important animal-based measures for assessing welfare.

Click here to return to the Homepage for more information on animal behavior, welfare, and care.

Click here to return to Dr. Grandin's Books and Video page.

Click here to return to the Improving Animal Welfare Table of Contents page and read other chapter excerpts.