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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. Together, these studies provide some insight on animal welfare but do not give us the whole picture.

To address this challenge, our team have explored the application of human psychological theories in livestock to understand the emotional states of animals in different farming situations, such as intensive finishing systems or during droughts.

Our work in this area has included the development of novel emotional reactivity tests and collaborating with institutions such as the National Agronomy Research Institute in France to pioneer a new field of livestock research on cognitive biases.

The results

Increased understanding for improved welfare

We've developed a range of cognitive methods that have shown promise as measures of emotional states for livestock. Our methods have been adopted and adapted by welfare scientists around the globe for use in a range of livestock species.

We're continuing to refine these methods and expand our understanding of the emotional and cognitive functions of livestock. Understanding how our production systems impact the way animals 'feel' will allow us to alter farming practices to improve animal welfare.

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