Measuring how farm animals ‘feel’

We are researching ways to improve the welfare of livestock by developing scientific methods for assessing how animals 'feel' in response to common management practices.

The Challenge

Management of farm animals

Australia’s livestock industries are focussing on improving farming practices that reduce stress and pain in animals, improve their wellbeing and also their productivity.

With increased public concern about the welfare of animals and consumers looking for ‘animal-welfare-friendly’ products, our livestock industries are looking to change management practices to meet these new expectations.

This requires new methods to benchmark the welfare of animals in their on-farm environment.

Our Response

Objective measurement of animal welfare

The science of objective measurement of animal welfare is relatively new. Current methods largely focus on quantifying biological indicators of stress – for example, via blood tests that show changes in animals’ physiology or immune systems.

CSIRO's Dr Caroline Lee, monitoring cattle behaviour at Armidale, NSW.

Studies of animal behaviour have also been used to indicate obvious emotional states such as pain or discomfort, or preferences for different foods. However, all of these studies provide relatively limited information.

We are now working, in collaboration with Dr Alain Boissy at the National Agronomy Research Institute in France, to develop our ability to understand the emotional states of animals in different farming situations, such as intensive finishing systems or during droughts. Our scientists are using cognitive principles based on human psychological theories to assess animal emotions.

The Results

Increased understanding for improved welfare

The expected outcomes of this research will be to expand our understanding of the emotional and cognitive functions of livestock and we can use this information to alter farming practices that will improve animal welfare and therefore should have a positive effect on animal production.

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