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Performance Traits Best Measure of Animal Welfare

by 5m Editor
4 December 2007, at 9:28am

URBANA - It is time to recognise what farmers have known for generations - the highly productive animal will be the animal that appears to be experiencing low stress, says a University of Illinois Animal Sciences professor, Stan Curtis.

In an article published in the Professional Animal Scientist he says that an animal state of being (ASB) has become a high priority for the public.

"An important issue in animal agriculture nowadays is the public demand for evidence that animals on farms and ranches are being treated humanely, " he explains.

However, he also notes that as important as this question is, scientists have yet to reach consensus as to how to accomplish that task.

"It is an unsettled area of knowledge that is seriously in need of more concerted attention," says Professor Curtis.

Impossibility
He says that it is not possible to objectively measure an animal's feelings in the laboratory, let alone in a production setting. And it is the interpretation of such observations of behavior patterns, which are putatively indicative of negative feelings. It is therefore difficult to understand where the practical usefulness of such subjective observations on farms and ranches. Others advocate more objectively measurable animal-performance traits as more valid indicators of ASB today

Curtis writes that what cannot be measured cannot be managed.

"We can directly, objectively measure productive and reproductive performance, but not feelings, for example suffering; Performance reductions are early, sensitive indicators that ASB is being compromised," he adds.

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"More attention should be accorded the performance axiom, then the recognition of performance as an indicator of ASB would have been resurrected from an unfortunate hiatus that has lasted for several decades."

Professor Stan Curtis, University of Illinois

In the absence of an adequate scientifically informed understanding of its conscious feelings, the best single set of measurable, and so manageable, indicators of an animal's state of being will be its rates of productive and reproductive performance relative to its predicted potential to perform.

"The community of animal-welfare scientists should be enlarged to include more people who specialise in state-indicative animal traits, in addition to behavioural and cognitive ones," he says.

Farmers have long recognised the effectiveness of performance as a measurement of ASB. They know that the highly productive animal will be the one that appears to be experiencing low stress and enjoying a high state of being.

"If scientists would recognise this and more attention was accorded the performance axiom, then the recognition of performance as an indicator of ASB would have been resurrected from an unfortunate hiatus that has lasted for several decades," he pointed out.

Professor Curtis concludes that if progress is to be made in the assessment of ASB, then the importance and use of objective measures of animal performance must be markedly increased.

5m Editor