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Open Access Research article

An on-farm investigation of beef suckler herds using an animal welfare index (AWI)

Mickael Mazurek13, Daniel J Prendiville2, Mark A Crowe3, Isabelle Veissier4 and Bernadette Earley1*

Author Affiliations

1 Animal and Bioscience Research Department, Animal & Grassland Research and Innovation Centre, Teagasc, Grange, Dunsany, Co. Meath, Ireland

2 Animal & Grassland Research and Innovation Centre, Teagasc, Grange, Dunsany, Co. Meath, Ireland

3 School of Agriculture, Food Science & Veterinary Medicine and the Conway Institute, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland

4 URH-ACS, I.N.R.A., site de Theix, F-63122, St. Genès Champanelle, France

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BMC Veterinary Research 2010, 6:55  doi:10.1186/1746-6148-6-55

Published: 13 December 2010

Abstract

Background

Beef suckler farms (194 farms throughout 13 counties) were assessed once with housed cattle and once with cattle at grass using an animal welfare index (AWI). Twenty-three of the 194 farms were revisited a year later and re-evaluated using the AWI and the Tier-Gerechtheits-Index 35L/2000 (TGI35L/2000). Thirty-three indicators were collected in five categories: locomotion (5 indicators); social interactions (between animals) (7), flooring (5), environment (7) and Stockpersonship (9). Three indicators relating to the size of the farm were also collected.

Improving animal welfare is an increasingly important aspect of livestock production systems predominantly due to increased consumer concern about the source of animal products. The objectives were (i) to evaluate animal welfare of Irish beef suckler herds using an animal welfare index (AWI), (ii) to examine correlations between parameters, how they influence the AWI and investigate the applicability of the parameters used, (iii) to investigate the impact of the activity of the farmer (full-time or part-time), the interest of the farmer and the number of animals on the AWI.

Results

The mean AWI was 65% and ranged from 54% to 83%. The grazing period represented 16.5% of the total points of the AWI. Seventy percent of the farms were rated as "Very Good" or "Excellent". There was no difference (P > 0.05) in AWI between full-time and part-time farmers. Part-time farmers had greater (P = 0.01) "social interactions": calving (P = 0.03) and weaning (P < 0.001) scores. Full-time farmers had cleaner animals (P = 0.03) and their animals had less lameness (P = 0.01). The number of animals on-farm and the interest of the Stockperson were negatively and positively correlated (P = 0.001), respectively, with the AWI. A hierarchical classification was performed to examine how the indicators influenced the AWI.

Conclusion

The AWI was easily applicable for an on-farm evaluation of welfare. The Stockpersonship was an important factor in determining the AWI (11% of the total variation) more specifically, the interest of the farmer. Part and full-time farming did not differ (P > 0.05) in AWI scores. This method could, with further development, be used in countries with both intensive and/or extensive production systems and would require substantially less resources than animal-based methods.