March 18, 2016

Animal well-being hot topic at Midwest

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March 17, 2016 – The 2016 Midwest Meeting held this week in Des Moines included several symposia, oral and poster sessions. Here is a summary of the two-part “Animal Behavior, Housing and Well-being Symposium” by our Australian communications interns.

Animal Behavior, Housing and Well-being Symposium: Part I

By Chloe Mitchell, ASAS/ASAP communications intern

An Animal Behavior, Housing and Well-being Symposium was held on March 15 at the 2016 Midwest Meeting in Des Moines, Iowa. Part I of the symposium focused on solutions to challenges in animal well-being. Welcoming remarks were given by symposium chair, Jennifer A. Brown of the Prairie Swine Centre.

The first speaker was Simon Turner from Scotland’s Rural College, with a presentation entitled “The role of breeding in positive welfare change.” Turner addressed the use of selective breeding for animals more suited to specific housing environments. He highlighted welfare issues that could not be solved by a change in animal management alone due to barriers to change such as economic limitations, extreme environmental conditions and failure of education and training to implement change. Turner used the examples of lamb neonatal survival, foot infections in cattle and sheep, and aggression in pigs to illustrate the need for welfare solutions combining improved animal management practices and breeding.

The next speaker was Ashley DeDecker of the Smithfield Hog Production Division. DeDecker spoke on “Implementing animal well-being technologies, U.S. producer perspective”, with a focus on welfare issues with housing in pig production. She emphasized the welfare issues and consumer concerns surrounding the use of sow stalls, and covered alternative systems, highlighting that appropriate sow management may be more important than the housing system in terms of welfare.

Angela Green from the Animal Welfare and Environmental Systems Laboratory gave a talk on “Engineering solutions to address challenges to animal well-being.” Green gave an engineering perspective of animal welfare, covering examples of engineering solutions to problems in animal industries, such as the use of thermal imaging to study the effects of water misters on alleviating heat stress during transport of pigs, and preference chambers for behavioral studies. Green highlighted that measuring animal response is useful in a research setting, but most of these measurements are not practical in a commercial setting. Recent advancements in technology are helping to overcome this limitation.

The final speaker was John Deen from the University of Minnesota, who presented “Six questions for veterinarians.” Veterinarians have to manage both the needs of the animal and the concerns of individuals and society as a whole in regards to welfare. The six questions Deen proposed were a model used in veterinary training, and are as follows: 1. How did we get to the present welfare norms? 2. How anthropocentric are these norms? 3. How do we discriminate levels of consciousness in animals? 4. How does the behavior of animals indicate welfare? 5. How does the physical state of animals indicate welfare? 6. How do the natures and instincts of animals indicate welfare? Deen concluded there needs to be more conversation on these questions in order to make animal welfare a central discussion.


Animal Behavior, Housing and Well-being Symposium: Part II

By Holly Webb, ASAS/ASAP communications intern

Part II of the symposium was held on the afternoon of March 15. Dr. Jeffery Bewley was the first speaker and focused on, ‘Opportunities for monitoring and improving animal welfare using precision dairy monitoring technologies’. Precision dairy monitoring has the benefits of early detection, efficiency in management, objective measurements and an improved quality product. Dr. Bewley gave an outline of the ideal technology for milk, conformation, behavior and physiology measurement, including an explanation of an underlying biological process, the ability to be translated into meaningful action, a cost-effective, flexible, robust and reliable product that is solution focused with readily available information.

Dr. Bewley detailed current available dairy technology for milk and wearable technology for the animal, with the capability for behavior monitoring and physiology monitoring, lying behavior monitoring, real-time location systems, sleep monitoring and calving detection. He then discussed cow group level data and highlighted the need for caution when comparing across herds. Precision dairy technologies were also evaluated for the ability to assess cow well-being, finishing the presentation with future development potential of the technologies.

The final speaker of the presentation was Dr. Liesbeth Bolhius from the Adaptation Physiology Group at Wageningen University, Netherlands. The presentation titled, ‘Improving welfare, health and productivity in pigs by optimizing adaptation’, gave two examples of how to improve welfare in pigs by enhancing adaptation, where adaptation was described as piglets’ “coping resources” and a challenge as “burden or load”. The balance of challenge and stress an animal is exposed to and the adaptive capacity of the animal itself was a central theme.

“Balance has an effect on health, welfare and productivity”, said Dr. Bolhuis.

Dr. Bolhuis first focused on the weaning of piglets. The studies took inspiration from the gradual weaning process seen in nature where feed exploration starts early and weaning ends at 8-20 weeks of age. Sow-piglet information transfer was highlighted both in utero and after birth. Environmental enrichment for piglets was also explored and shown to decrease food neophobia and increase preweaning weight. Mother and stimulus rich environments promoted the development of foraging and learning how and what to eat. To reduce stress, she proposed making the postweaning environment more familiar to piglets.

Dr. Bolhuis then discussed the applications of this research where it has been applied on farm with modified farrowing pens and in research projects for group housing during lactation and after weaning. She then moved to the damaging behaviour of biting in piglets.

Dr. Bolhuis explained the multifactorial problem, stating it is a “typical example of an animal with too much load”. The study tried to profile tail biters, however, it was difficult to find an initiator and ‘high tail biters’ were inconsistent. Tail biting started earlier than expected and was more consistent in ‘obsessive tail biters’. Dr. Bolhuis questioned if we can select against the behavior but phenotyping can be costly or laborious and initial tail biters are hard to identify. It was concluded that coping with weaning affects damaging behaviors.