Streamlining Welfare Assessments of Dairy Cows
In 2009, the Welfare Quality® research project sponsored by the European Union produced a set of comprehensive protocols for measuring the welfare of farmed cows, pigs, and chickens. While the protocols show promise for standardizing farm animal welfare assessments, they have also been criticized for taking too long to carry out, as the full assessments entail multiple evaluation methods and require an entire day to complete for each farm assessed.
The authors of this article, published in Animal Welfare, attempted to create a reduced and more efficient protocol with statistical analysis to replace observation for distinct assessment methods. They carried out six methods and later attempted to predict the welfare indicator values for four of the more time-consuming methods using observations from the other five methods. They found that the correlation between the observed and predicted values was low to moderate for all four assessment methods, suggesting that statistical analysis does not adequately replace observation. The authors note that results could have been skewed by variations between observers or the use of differing classification systems for different assessment methods.
While this study shows that assessment protocols cannot be reliably reduced using statistical predictions, the overall goal is still worthwhile. And stakeholders could conceivably be more likely to use the assessments if they required less time. To that end, the authors offer additional methods that would be worth exploring, including utilizing data obtained from electronic herd health records and automated monitoring systems. Whatever the approach, it’s a worthwhile goal to evaluate welfare and try to make lives a little better for the billions of farmed chickens, pigs, and cows found on farms of all sizes.