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Different animal welfare orientations towards some key research areas of current relevance to pastoral dairy farming in New Zealand

Authors: Webster JR, Mellor DJ, Sutherland MA, Schütz KE, Stewart M
Publication: New Zealand Veterinary Journal, Volume 63, Issue 1, pp 31-36, Jan 2015
Publisher: Taylor and Francis


The New Zealand dairy industry needs to meet public expectations regarding animal welfare in order to retain the freedom to operate and achieve market success. Three key orientations towards animal welfare assessment have been identified, namely biological functioning, affective state and natural living, the last two of which are more recent foci for societal concern. Biological functioning was the first and most-studied aspect of animal welfare and continues to be important, but now the contribution of affective state to animal well-being is emphasised much more. Natural living, or naturalness, has received relatively less attention from animal welfare science. It is proposed that increasing the use of naturalness as a contextual reference point for considering species-specific behavioural expressions of affective state will enhance its inclusion in animal welfare assessment. Nevertheless, all three orientations need to be considered in order to evaluate the significance of welfare research findings. On this basis, five key aspects of the New Zealand dairy industry that have been the subject of recent research, due to the risk of them not meeting public expectations, are highlighted and discussed. The aspects are provision of shade and shelter, meeting targets for body condition, provision of comfortable surfaces for rearing calves, and for adult cows while off pasture, and pain relief for disbudding of calves. Research evidence indicates that the industry guidelines on body condition score, if met, would satisfy public expectations across the three orientations to animal welfare, whereas further work is needed on the other aspects. It is concluded that considering these three orientations to animal welfare when planning research and then evaluating the outcomes will help to promote the market success of the dairy industry in New Zealand.

KEY WORDS: Animal welfare, biological functioning, affective state, naturalness, dairy cattle
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