There are paths for animal welfare research to create win/win solutions for agriculture, consumers and the animals, says Stan Curtis, University of Illinois researchers. Curtis has long been a leader in animal wellbeing research in the agricultural arena.
At last week's Animal Agriculture Alliance's Annual Summit, Curtis pointed to multiple research trials underway from sow housing to floor space for broiler chickens to tail docking in dairy cows that show how animal welfare research can benefit animals and producers at the same time.
He points to the fact that for every $1 spent on agricultural research, the payback is estimated at 30 cents to 50 cents per year once producers, ranchers and processors adopt the new technology. After this two- to three-year payback, the research will continue to reap dividends for many years. What's more, until just a few years ago, many scientists studying animal wellbeing for the agricultural industry barely had a shoestring budget. Attention and funding for the issue has improved, and Curtis urges American companies to increase their budgets in this area.
For his part, Curtis is emphasizing a "performance axiom." In essence, it takes the position that a "healthy animal's" productive and reproductive performance, relative to its predicted potential performance, is the "best single set of measurable indicators of the animal's state of being." He points out that we (humans) in fact, do not have any scientifically informed understanding of animals' feelings,
He does take issue with some research that is "overemphasizing" behavioral and physiological indicators that ''are difficult to impossible to measure, interpret, or both." His point is we still do not have accurate and effective scientific measures of animals' responses to stress.
In contrast, he points to two research trials as examples that show an animal's productivity and the perceived physiological response contradict each other. One involves broiler chickens that showed growth rate was a better indicator of crowding stress than adaptive physiological traits. The second trial involves dairy cows that showed milk yield for tail-docked cows to be in the same range as non-docked cows.
In the end, Curtis challenges the animal agricultural community to continue funding and pursuing scientific efforts to find answers to animal wellbeing issues. In that way, it will be a win/win for humans and the animals.