Towards the creation of a welfare assessment system in intensive beef cattle farms
This study aimed to develop an assessment scheme for the evaluation at farm level of beef cattle welfare in the intensive rearing system that is capable of both identifying weak points in animal welfare and grading farms to such extent. The basic principle of the method was the avoidance of animal handling and the prolonged observation of cattle using animal-based and resource provision measures grouped in four classes of parameters: 1) Housing systems and facilities; 2) Health and cleanliness; 3) Animal behaviour and reactivity; 4) Quality of management and stockmanship. Each parameter was graded giving the highest scores to the best option for animal welfare, and the threshold value for distinguishing good from poor welfare conditions was set primarily on the results of scientific reports and investigations. An overall Welfare Index was calculated summing the scores of the 4 classes of parameters to formulate a general judgement of the farm and to allow comparison among them. The protocol was applied to 102 Italian intensive beef cattle farms rearing more than 300 young bulls/year. Regarding housing and facilities, the study showed that space allowance and space at the manger were the most frequent critical points. Within the “poor welfare” farms, more than 80% provided less than 3.5 m2/head to bulls weighing more than 500 kg, and none adopted a feeding frontage of at least 60 cm/head. Negatively judged farms compared to those ranked in the good welfare area for health and cleanliness showed a higher incidence of emergency slaughter (score 1.7: >1% vs score 3: 0.5-1%, P<0.05) and lameness (score 1.9: 1.5-3% vs score 3.3: <1.5%, P<0.05). Animal behaviour and reactivity parameters showed that in the “poor welfare” farms, bulls had a quicker flight reaction to the presence of both farmer and observer (P<0.01) likely due to a negative human-animal interaction. The quality of stockmanship was the category in which the highest number of farms failed to reach the acceptable threshold. Animal welfare was mainly impaired by the practice of tail docking and reduced feed availability. Although none of the farms included in the survey reached the maximum overall score, less then 30% were graded in the poor welfare area, penalized mainly by low management quality. The protocol was shown to be effective in detecting specific critical points for animal welfare, even if further development should be addressed to testing repeatability at different fattening stages.
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Beef cattle, Welfare, On-farm assessment.
the Italian Journal of Animal Science [eISSN 1828-051X] is the official journal of the Animal Science and Production Association and it is published by PAGEPress®, Pavia, Italy. Reg. Pavia, n. 2/2010-INF. All credits and honors to PKP for their OJS.