Improving Animal Welfare: A Practical Approach

Edited by Dr. Temple Grandin
Colorado State University, USA

ISBN: 978-1-84593-541-2
c. 336 pages
131 figures/illustrations

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

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Chapter 4: The importance of good stockmanship and its benefits for the animals.

by Jeffrey Rushen and Anne Marie de Passille, Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre, Agri-Food Canada, British Columbia, Canada

Good stockmanship can significantly improve the productivity of farm animals. It also has the added benefit of improving animal welfare. The author reviews a number of studies tha tshow that cattle, pigs, and chickens that fear people have lower productivity.

Below is an excerpt from Chapter 4...

Handling and Animals’ Fearfulness of People

Research has now shown quite clearly that when farm animals are frightened of the people that care for or handle them this can have a marked effect on their welfare. This research has been reviewed a number of times previously (Hemsworth and Coleman, 1998; Rushen et al., 1999b; Waiblinger et al., 2004, 2006). Fear of people can be a major source of stress and a cause of lost production in most species of farm animals. There are marked differences between animals and between farms in the degree to which the animals are frightened of people, and the degree of fear of the animals on a farm is strongly associated with the productivity of the animals on the farm.

Researchers have now found large differences between farms in the level of productivity achieved by farm animals and the extent that the animals are frightened of people. In one of the first studies, Hemsworth et al. (1981) compared one-man pig farms and found that the degree of fear that the pigs showed to people, as measured by their readiness to approach people (Fig. 4.1), accounted for a substantial amount of the difference between farms in farrowing rate and number of piglets born (see Chapter 1 on fear). In a later study, Hemsworth et al. (1999) found correlations between the behavioral response of lactating sows to people and the percentage of stillborn piglets. Farms on which sows were quicker to withdraw from an approaching person (a sign of fearfulness) had a higher stillbirth rate than those who allowed the person to approach closely. The difference between gilts in their response to the person accounted for about 18% of the difference between farms in percentage of stillborn piglets. The results indicate that high levels of fear of people by sows may strongly affect the survival of their piglets. Similarly, in poultry, feed conversion efficiency (that is the amount of feed needed to produce a certain amount of eggs) has been found to be lower on poultry farms where the birds kept a larger distance from people (Hemsworth et al., 1994a).

Sometimes, the effect of stockmanship may not be due to the use of rough handling but through more subtle effects. For example, Cransberg et al. (2000) found a higher mortality among broiler chicks on farms where the stockpeople moved quickly (presumably frightening the birds), while mortality was lower the more time the stockperson stayed still in the shed. Again, the size of the effect was large: the speed of movement of the stockperson accounted for 15% of the differences between farms in broiler mortality.

Perhaps because dairy cows are handled often, much research on how handling methods affect the fearfulness of the animals has involved dairy cattle (Fig. 4.2). Seabrook (1984) showed that the way that dairy cows were handled by the stockperson and the degree of fear the animals show towards the people can be a major factor underlying the differing productivity of different stockpeople. He observed the behavior of cows that were being handled by ‘high-producing’ stockpeople (that is stockpeople whose cows produced a large amount of milk) and compared this to cows handled by ‘low-producing’ stockpeople. He found that the cows with the high-producing stock person were spoken to and touched more often, appeared less frightened and were more easily moved, and were more likely to approach the stockperson.

More recently, Breuer et al. (2000) found substantial relationships between the levels of milk production on dairy farms, the way that the animals were handled, and the degree of fear that the cows showed towards people. Thirty-one commercial dairy farms in Australia were visited and the stockpeople were observed while they moved and handled the animals during normal milkings. The degree to which the milkers used rough or aversive handling during milking varied widely between farms. Furthermore, the use of highly aversive handling techniques (e.g. forceful slaps, hits and tail twists) could account for almost 16% of the differences between farms in annual milk yield.

The cows’ fearfulness towards people was measured by observing the time that the cows spent close to a person. Again, large differences between farms were noted in the cows’ degree of fearfulness: on the farm with the least fearful cows, the cows spent six times as long close to the person compared to the farm with the most fearful cows. Milk yield was significantly lower as fearfulness of the cow increased, especially during milking. A multiple regression analysis suggested that differences between farms in the degree of fearfulness of the cows could account for 30% of the differences between farms in annual milk production, a size- able figure! A subsequent report from the same research group (Hemsworth et al., 2000), found that farms with more fearful cows had a significantly smaller proportion of cows conceiving at the first insemination. Differences between farms in the level of fearfulness accounted for 14% of the variance between farms in conception rates. Many of these results were replicated by Waiblinger et al. (2002) who observed the behavior of cows and stockpeople during milking on 30 dairy farms in Austria, showing that the effects are not specific to the extensive dairy production system of Australia. Dairy cows’ fear of people may also have effects on their health: Fulwider et al. (2008) found that dairies with cows that were most likely to approach or touch people had lower somatic cell counts.

Undesirable effects of animals’ fear of people can be particularly important during preslaughter handling. A history of aversive interactions between stockpeople and veal calves has been found to affect ease of moving and transporting the animals and meat quality after slaughter. Lensink et al. (2001b) compared veal calves from farms where the farmer acted predominantly gently towards the animals with calves from farms where the farmer acted more roughly. Calves from farms with the rough farmers needed more effort to be loaded on to the trucks, had higher heart rates during loading and unloading (signs of stress), showed more fearful behavior and had more traumatic accidents (e.g. falling down or hitting structures) at lairage, and had poorer meat quality. A similar relationship between farmers’ behavior and meat quality of older beef bulls (Mounier et al., 2008) and of pigs (Hemsworth et al., 2002a) has also been reported.

Together these studies present convincing evidence for the major farm animal species, of a strong relationship between the methods used to handle the animals, the degree of fear shown by the animals towards people, and the level of productivity of the farm.

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