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How Can We Assess Positive Welfare in Ruminants?

Dipartimento di Scienze Agrarie e Ambientali - Produzione, Territorio, Agroenergia, Università degli Studi di Milano, 20133 Milan, Italy
Dipartimento di Agraria, Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II, 80055 Portici, Italy
Scuola di Scienze Agrarie, Forestali, Alimentari ed Ambientali, Università degli Studi della Basilicata, 85100 Potenza, Italy
Animal Behaviour and Welfare, SRUC, Easter Bush Campus, Edinburgh EH9 3JG, UK
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2019, 9(10), 758;
Received: 26 July 2019 / Revised: 11 September 2019 / Accepted: 30 September 2019 / Published: 2 October 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Positive Aspects of Animal Welfare)
The concern for better farm animal welfare has been greatly increasing among scientists, veterinarians, farmers, consumers, and the general public over many years. As a consequence, several indicators have been developed to assess animal welfare, and several specific protocols have been proposed for welfare evaluation. Most of the indicators developed so far focus on the negative aspects of animal welfare (e.g., lameness, lesions, diseases, presence of abnormal behaviours, high levels of stress hormones, and many more). However, the lack of negative welfare conditions does not necessarily mean that animals are in good welfare and have a good quality of life. To guarantee high welfare standards, animals should experience positive conditions that allow them to live a life that is really worth living. We reviewed the existing indicators of positive welfare for farmed ruminants and identified some gaps that still require work, especially in the domains of Nutrition and Health, and the need for further refinement of some of the existing indicators.
Until now, most research has focused on the development of indicators of negative welfare, and relatively few studies provide information on valid, reliable, and feasible indicators addressing positive aspects of animal welfare. However, a lack of suffering does not guarantee that animals are experiencing a positive welfare state. The aim of the present review is to identify promising valid and reliable animal-based indicators for the assessment of positive welfare that might be included in welfare assessment protocols for ruminants, and to discuss them in the light of the five domains model, highlighting possible gaps to be filled by future research. Based on the existing literature in the main databases, each indicator was evaluated in terms of its validity, reliability, and on-farm feasibility. Some valid indicators were identified, but a lot of the validity evidence is based on their absence when a negative situation is present; furthermore, only a few indicators are available in the domains of Nutrition and Health. Reliability has been seldom addressed. On-farm feasibility could be increased by developing specific sampling strategies and/or relying on the use of video- or automatic-recording devices. In conclusion, several indicators are potentially available (e.g., synchronisation of lying and feeding, coat or fleece condition, qualitative behaviour assessment), but further research is required. View Full-Text
Keywords: ruminants; cattle; sheep; goats; buffaloes; animal welfare; positive indicators; five domains ruminants; cattle; sheep; goats; buffaloes; animal welfare; positive indicators; five domains
MDPI and ACS Style

Mattiello, S.; Battini, M.; De Rosa, G.; Napolitano, F.; Dwyer, C. How Can We Assess Positive Welfare in Ruminants? Animals 2019, 9, 758.

AMA Style

Mattiello S, Battini M, De Rosa G, Napolitano F, Dwyer C. How Can We Assess Positive Welfare in Ruminants? Animals. 2019; 9(10):758.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Mattiello, Silvana; Battini, Monica; De Rosa, Giuseppe; Napolitano, Fabio; Dwyer, Cathy. 2019. "How Can We Assess Positive Welfare in Ruminants?" Animals 9, no. 10: 758.

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