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The development of indicators of sheep welfare for farm assessment - AW1025

For the European Union Single Farm Payment Scheme, farmers will be required to comply with Statutory Management Regulations (SMR) regarding the welfare of the animals on their farms. This project aims to deliver indicators of sheep welfare to be used by inspectors for the measurement and monitoring of sheep welfare on farms in England and Wales.
The welfare indicators developed for this purpose must be scientifically robust as well as believed to be fair by farmers. Should a farmer be found to fail to meet SMR welfare standards, they are likely to receive significant financial penalties. However, it also important for the majority of farmers, who do maintain welfare standards that they should be rewarded compared to those who do not. In addition, the sheep industry needs to be able to demonstrate good welfare standards to maintain public confidence and to ensure that public money is not subsidising the minority of farmers who have poor animal welfare. Therefore the indicators to be developed need to fulfill a number of criteria: They should be
1) valid, which means they are genuine measures of an animal's welfare
2) reliable, which means the same results would be achieved using different observers, or the same observer at different times
3) practical, in that they can be used to assess welfare using limited time and personnel resources
4) applicable to different farms with different management systems at different times of year
5) able to demonstrate welfare changes at the flock level and the national level
Currently there is no single measure that can be used to directly measure an animal’s welfare. An animal's welfare encompasses a variety of physical and mental domains. The definition of animal welfare drawn up by the Farm Animal Welfare Council in the Five Freedoms is widely accepted as providing an inclusive description of the many factors that contribute to an animal's physical and mental well-being. They are:-
1. Freedom from hunger and thirst
2. Freedom from discomfort
3. Freedom from pain, injury and disease
4. Freedom to express normal behaviour
5. Freedom from fear and distress
Behavioural, physiological and environmental indicators of welfare of animals have been devised for some of these freedoms. However, many of these indicators have primarily been used as research tools and have not been thoroughly assessed for their validity, reliability and practicality for on farm monitoring of sheep welfare.
Using a process of systematic review of the scientific literature on sheep welfare and welfare indicators, obtaining a consensus view from sheep veterinary experts, and using the Five Freedoms as a framework, we will identify a number of potential indicators that could be used for on farm monitoring of sheep welfare.
The methods of assessment of the identified indicators of sheep welfare will then be developed and tested in a year long, farm based, cross-sectional study. Farms recruited to the study will represent the range of management systems in the British Sheep Stratification System. The aim here is to develop accurate and reliable scoring systems for measurement of the indicators at the individual animal level. The individual animal level scores for each indicator will then be translated into group levels scores for the flock using a combination of statistical analysis, modelling and expert opinion.
In England and Wales there is a diverse range of farm management systems for sheep production and the cross-sectional study will include representatives from these different systems. Indicators should be sensitive to seasonal and management changes. A year long longitudinal study will be carried out on a subset of farms from the cross-sectional study. Multiple farm visits will be made throughout the year in order to develop a predictive model of the effects of season and management on the indicators. These will be used to allow assessment of results in the light of these factors.
Clear guidance on the use and interpretation of the welfare indicators by inspectors in the form of standard operating procedures for each indicator and suggested intervention levels.
Thus at the end of this three year study we aim to provide valid, reliable, and practical indicators of sheep welfare for use by farm inspectors for on farm monitoring for cross- compliance with Statutory Management Regulations. The use of scientifically validated animal based welfare indicators will also provide farmers with the opportunity to improve sheep welfare on farms, consistent with the DEFRA Animal Health and Welfare Strategy.
Objective 1. Identification of valid indicators of sheep welfare (1/9/07- 31/11/07)
The first aim of objective 1 will be to produce a list of ranked, key welfare priorities for sheep, as agreed by a panel of experts. The second aim of objective 1 is to identify a number of indicators for each of these welfare priorities. This will be achieved by a process of systematic scientific literature review and consultation with the experts.

Objective 2. Develop the assessment methods for each individual animal level indicator. (1/10/07 – 31/10/08)
Here it is aimed to develop accurate, reliable and practical scoring systems for on farm observational assessment of the selected individual animal level indicators of sheep welfare.

Objective 3. The development of individual level animal indicators into group level indicators. (1/11/08- 31/1/09)
The individual animal indicators from objective 2 of the study will be developed into group level assessment systems. This will provide an overall weighted scoring system for each welfare indicator which can be applied on a flock basis. To ensure the practicality of the scoring systems we will also determine optimum sample sizes for each indicator.

Objective 4. A Longitudinal study of the effects of seasonality and management on group level indicators. (1/02/09 – 30/04/10)
The objective here will be to develop models of the effects of season and farm management on each group level indicator.

Objective 5. Development of standard operating procedures for each indicator. Guidance on preliminary intervention levels (1/11/09 -30/ 04/10).

A guidance document will be produced for each indicator for on farm use by future welfare inspectors.
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2007

To: 2010

Cost: £333,944
Contractor / Funded Organisations
University - Liverpool
Animal Welfare              
Plants and Animals              
Fields of Study
Animal Welfare