What does good animal welfare look like? Part One
Animal welfare is an important issue. Dr. Sara Steinlage, Chief Veterinary Officer, was raised in an agricultural community while, Dr. Michelle Calvo-Lorenzo, Technical Consultant, grew up in the city. They co-author this two-part article that discusses the ethical principles animal health professionals and livestock caregivers must adhere to through their two expert perspectives.

I remember when my son was little, Sara writes, and he asked: “How does a chicken become a chicken nugget?”

As the child of a veterinarian, he has always known meat comes from animals and that it was my job to take care of them. It was very important to me that I instilled in him the value of these animals and the proper care they needed from the day they were born or hatched through their entire lives.

But for many people who haven’t grown up with this insight into the food industry, livestock welfare triggers mixed views and many misconceptions. That’s why we want to provide a complete view of animal welfare by writing this from the vantage point of two animal health professionals.

The Five Freedoms

Veterinarians and animal health professionals adhere to the principles and moral obligations of the “Five Freedoms”, Michelle writes. These freedoms define the ideal states of animal welfare at every point of a farm animal’s life – on farm, in transit, or at harvest.

1. Freedom from Hunger and Thirst

This first principle ensures animals have ready access to ample fresh water and a diet that promotes healthy growth and a strong immune system. In agriculture, diets are formulated to the specific needs of the animals at the different stages of their life; whether they are newborns; in the growth phase; mature animals; or experiencing illness.

2. Freedom from Discomfort

An animal’s environment must provide shelter and a comfortable resting area, and be designed appropriately for the animal. For instance, farms which adopt modern housing for poultry and swine can control the temperature and humidity of the animal’s environment. This provides a comfortable environment for the animals even when the temperatures outside are not. For cattle, we must provide them adequate room to lay down and socialize. In many instances, farmers provide bedding or flooring to optimize comfort, ensure herds have dry areas to rest in, and warmth/cooling when needed. Modern housing can also incorporate windbreaks to ease wind chills, and fans, sprinklers for cooling, and shade to provide relief on hot days to further enhance comfort.

3. Freedom from Pain, Injury, and Disease

Prevention, control and treatment of disease are the cornerstones of good animal husbandry. Of course, veterinary care is critical for the good health and welfare of animals. Preventative health strategies safeguard animals by strengthening their immune systems against disease. Veterinarians provide knowledge and oversight on herd and flock health protocols which may also include prescribing medications when needed. Caregivers, which include farmers and farm workers, play an important role in the prevention of disease and rapid diagnosis for treatment. In modern agriculture, its standard practice to train farm workers on animal care and welfare to enable positive human-animal interactions, reduce stress and disease in animals, and promote safety for both humans and animals.

These are just three of the five freedoms we’ll discuss. In our next blog post we will discuss the final two freedoms.

Discover the final two freedoms in Part Two.

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