Written by Jacquelyn Prestegaard
Some animals are raised for human companionship (for example, pets and service animals) whereas others are raised to provide food, fiber, and labor (livestock, or farm animals). This classification leads some consumers to believe that farmers and ranchers do not bond with their livestock and therefore feel less obligated to care for their welfare.
In an article appearing in July’s issue of Animal Frontiers, Dr. Candace Croney, Director of Purdue University’s Center for Animal Welfare Science, examines the mutually beneficial relationships between people and farm animals. Treating farm animals with care and respect has been convincingly shown to correlate with better productivity and economic returns. Yet, the term “human-animal bond” is not often used in reference to farm animals. As a result, some audiences are concerned that livestock are seen solely as ‘commodities’ to farmers.
“The bonds many people have with the animals with whom they routinely engage as companions may provide a fundamental basis for such concerns,” Croney wrote. People whom own dogs, cats, and other companion animals may “… feel a greater sense of moral obligations to all animals.” Thus they tend to worry about farm animal well-being.
There are various reasons why consumers may believe farmers do not share emotional connections with their animals. For example, there is not much literature that describes farmers experiencing sadness when they lose livestock. The attention given to farm animal’s behavioral and physical needs also is perceived as lessened due to their classification as “commodities.” In addition, the use of terms such as Animal Science instead of the older Animal Husbandry, or terms such as ‘food animal industry’ and ‘producers,’ “…relay a reluctance to articular significant emotional connections with livestock animals that contributes to public concern about their treatment,” argues Croney.
However, other observations suggest that farmers do care and have compassion for their animals.
“The catastrophic loss of tens of thousands of cattle in South Dakota in 2013 due to an early blizzard has…been reported to have wreaked emotional havoc on impacted ranchers,” said Croney.
Moreover, a specific definition of “acceptable” welfare for livestock has not been agreed upon. This lack of agreement promotes tension between those who raise farm animals and those who do not. In addition, people who are disconnected from agriculture may not understand what is realistic and feasible in terms of raising farm animals.
It is important for everyone to realize, however, that it is in a farmer’s best economic interest to treat his or her animals responsibly. “In particular, caretaker or stockperson behavior toward animals appears to be highly correlated with the quality of human animal interactions occurring on farms and has major implications for both animal welfare and farm productivity,” states Croney in the article. For example, cattle that experience negative interactions with humans exhibit reduced milk production and can cause increased labor costs. As another example, pigs that experience negative human-animal interactions have reduced growth and reproduction rates, reducing farm profitability.
Still, the quality human-animal interaction varies widely from farm to farm.
Croney suggests that farmers should be more transparent about their emotional connection with their livestock. Establishing that there is a human-farm animal bond extending beyond economics will “… facilitate positive interactions with livestock animals as well as consumers.”
Animal Frontiers is a joint venture between four globally active professional animal science societies: American Society of Animal Science (ASAS), Canadian Society of Animal Science (CSAS), the European Federation of Animal Science (EAAP), and the American Meat Science Association (AMSA). Each issue of Animal Frontiers consists of a series of invited, peer-reviewed articles that present several international perspectives on the status of a high-impact, global issue in animal agriculture today.
ASAS Media Communications
Featured image courtesy of USDA-ARS.