Understanding Livestock Welfare

Updated: May 4, 2020

Farm animals, or livestock as they are commonly known, are a collective of animals that have been farmed for profit via the production of milk, meat and or fibre for centuries throughout the world. The rich history of livestock production has resulted in some fabulous innovations in the way milk, meat and fibre has been produced and collected in addition to the way animals are managed. However, as animal numbers increased and production intensified, the individuality of each animal has been lost along the way as profitability is seldom measured on an individual basis with the focus on total production. The result being that farming has become a numbers game for most and in the worst cases, animals are seen as mass production units.

For livestock agriculture to be relevant in the future, the pendulum needs to swing back to making every animal count; to focus on the health and wellbeing of individuals and to recognise the role sentience has on increasing profitability and sustainability. This is at the heart of the societal drive towards total transparency and responsible food production. Perversely a love of the individual animals is why most farmers, farm and why most of the world's food comes from family farms. Attention to detail has become the victim of increasing pressure on farmers to produce more for less with much of this pressure coming from the very consumers who now want to dictate terms of production.

The reality is that good welfare is good for business and the only thing that really needs to change is attitudes - on both sides of the supply chain. Pressure on farm, be it financial, social, emotional, environmental or a combination leads to stress in people which in turn causes stress in animals. Stressed animals are harder to manage and the cycle repeats with negative welfare outcomes for all involved. Breaking this cycle will require courage and the conviction that it is the right thing to do. For farmers this means a return to positive stock-handling and for the anti-farming lobby to acknowledge that animal agriculture is here to stay. Only when this happen will the progress towards positive welfare become accelerated and the focus on individual animal welfare be the norm.

Positive animal welfare is defined as the animal thriving in the conditions in which it lives, is healthy, comfortable, well fed, free of fear, distress, pain or illness, safe and able to express behaviour considered normal for that animal. It requires prevention of disease, treatment for illness, injury and pain, appropriate shelter, water and nutrition, good animal husbandry, humane slaughter and handling. Protecting an animal's welfare meens providing for its physical and mental needs. (Adapted from OIE (World Organization for Animal Health). Chapter 7.1. Introduction to the recommendations for animal welfare. Terrestrial Animal Health Code 2010. Available at

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