The first key step towards animal welfare improvement is to develop objective methods of assessing animals.
Humans have had a close evolutionary association with both domestic and wild animals, and we have depended on this stockmanship for our survival. Humans are subsequently able to ‘read’ animals in astonishing detail. A good stockman can identify an animal that is ill or lame since it behaves in some manner differently from the rest of the group – for example it might walk differently, spend more time apart, or increase the amount of time lying compared with the rest of the group. Although it is sometimes difficult to put into words to communicate, what that stockman is doing is essentially assessing qualitative aspects of the animals’ behavioural expression.
As part of a large collaborative research project ‘Animal Welfare Objective Measures’ that was funded through Meat & Livestock Australia and Meat & Wool NZ, we have been validating Qualitative Behavioural Assessment (QBA) as a reliable, objective integrated measure of assessing the behavioural expression of animals, including sheep, goats, cattle, pigs, dogs, and horses.