July 11, 2019

Animal Behavior and Well-Being Symposium II Recap

Animal Behavior and Well-Being Symposium II: Sponsored by Elanco

By: Jerica Hall

Review of Animal Welfare Data for Cattle and Swine. -Dr. Calvo-Lorenzo
The consumer demand for a focus on animal welfare is a growing area of importance for the livestock industry. Dr. Calvo-Lorenzo from Elanco opened the symposium speaking about the Elanco led the focus on fed cattle mobility through developing a mobility scoring system for improvements in production practices both on-farm and at slaughter facilities. Approxiamtely12 million cattle were scored using the North American Meat Institute 4-point scoring system with an accuracy of 86% for scorer reliability. When studying annual trends of abnormal mobility, there is a notable trend for increased abnormal mobility scores during the summer months. A positive affirmation from this study is the find that 90% of cattle are scoring normally for mobility. The cattle mobility data has led to the identification of risk factors for mobility issues with weather, time on the truck and seasonal stresses. Elanco benchmark is a database allowing for customers of Elanco to send in real-time data to identify strengths within a production system. Benchmark is designed to identify trends utilizing historical data such as cattle placement weights and finishing weights. With the benchmark data collected it has identified lower placement weights, increased days on feed leading to higher finishing and possibly the most interestingly increased mortality year over year even with increased investments in veterinary costs. Dr. Calvo-Lorenzo last touched on transport losses within the swine industry, stressing that transportation losses are not a new topic of discussion for the industry. Elanco developed a multi-year industry-wide survey covering 310 million market weight pigs with the goal of estimating the incidence of seasonal patterns, the volume of total dead pigs, total non-ambulatory pigs, and total transport losses. Dr. Calvo-Lorenzo highlighted the importance of collecting continuous data for identifying areas of improvement within our industry. As animal scientists, there is a responsibility to lead advancements in research of animal welfare while better communicating to the public consumer base the story of animal agriculture.  

Impact of Labor Issues on Animal Welfare. -Dr.  Courtney Daigle
Dr. Daigle spoke to the symposium about the impact of labor issues on animal welfare speaking to the labor shortage that faces the livestock industry as the number one issue in agriculture. Reform in immigration has led to a greater pressure of loss of labor. The increasing urbanization of society has led to a decrease in rural workers partially due to lack of awareness of career opportunities in traditional production systems. Limited pre-employment training opportunities and negative public perceptions have created a barrier for recruiting employees additionally, low pay for intense labor, a struggle to adapt to new technologies and cumbersome expectations of a variety of skills has led to a low retention rate of quality employees. The poultry industry has a 35% turnover rate followed closely by the swine industry with 30%. The importance of retention of a quality employee is worth their weight in gold conversely a poor employee can break the bank. Dr. Daigle highlighted the importance of a stockperson attitude on and behavior to influence the animal perception of fear and in turn animal behavior and the link between animal behavior and animal productivity. The negative impact of inconsistent handling and/or handler interactions creates an increased stress response in pigs that were directly correlated with a stunt in growth and overall animal performance. A stockperson’s attitude and behavior along with animal fear to impact job satisfaction and in turn work motivation. With a positive increase in work motivation, there is a positive correlation to increase the stockpersons technical skills and knowledge. A positive increase in stockperson performance directly affects the performance production of animals. Dr. Daigle encouraged the audience to rebrand animal husbandry positions as “careers” rather than jobs, invest in nontraditional potential employees through providing incentives for urbanites to move into rural communities.

Why does Animal Welfare Matter -Dr. Karen Christensen
Dr. Christensen spoke to the importance of why as livestock producers we must be willing to be transparent about our production practices as a large majority of society is four and a half generations removed from agriculture. Animal scientists must understand where we fit in the role of informing the public of animal welfare practices to ensure the industry can continue to utilize new and emerging technologies. The public understanding of the difference between pet care and production livestock practices is blurring the lines of the role of animals within our society. People across all demographics are paying more attention to food, they want to know how and where food is produced. A key to telling the story of agriculture production to the consumer is to share the message of shared values rather than the details of daily production practices. To elevate the industry and the trust from the public published corporate reports, third party and internal audits, including numbers that show the shortcomings of an operation, allow for tracking improvement. Public reporting of audits can serve an “insurance policy” of proof of improvement and quality animal care aiding in building consumer trust. Transparency and continuous improvement in production practices are essential to positively and honestly share the story of agriculture.

To Tweet or Not to Tweet. -Dr. Sarah Place
Dr. Place addressed how to better bridge the gap as scientists to the consumer. Humans make decisions most commonly with the influence of peer groups. By simply “informing” the public with a list of facts and figures is not how we solve misconceptions or confusion of a topic. A large obstacle for objective sciences and agriculture specifically is the “attack” of parallel sciences beginning with a conclusion of the impact of animal agriculture being negative and then seeking a narrative, be it true or not, to support this narrative. In today’s media-driven environment having a voice on a media forum such as medium, twitter, facebook, etc. provides a wide platform to engage with the public in space where many individuals feel most comfortable.