Implications of intensification of pastoral animal production on animal welfare

Implications of intensification of pastoral animal production on animal welfare
Peer reviewed

Abstract

The intensification of pastoral animal production results from several major developments including increased forage production and utilisation, diet supplementation, breeding animals to increase milk, meat or wool production, and changes in management. The impact of increased intensification on welfare will differ across species and systems. More intensive-grazing systems and the feeding of novel forages will underpin all moves to intensification. More intensive grazing generally reduces opportunities for shade and shelter. Improved nutrition will generally benefit welfare but competition for available feed may cause increased social pressure. Increased flock and herd size will be associated with a reduction in the human:animal ratio and less time to observe individual animals. Remote monitoring of activity and health might counter this impact. Intensification of dairy production will result in larger herds, more year-round milking, robotic milking, use of housing and yards year round, and total mixed-ration feeding. Larger herds mean longer distances to walk to and from the dairy shed, and more lameness and less time to spend on self-maintenance activities such as grooming. Holding and feeding dairy cows on yards will cause an increase in lameness and mastitis and perhaps an increase in agonistic behaviour but will reduce time spent walking.
Intensification of sheep production will involve increased flock size, increased fecundity, breeding from hoggets, and breeding ewes all year round. Housing during lambing might be considered appropriate, as would feeding to lift milk yields. Increased fecundity with an increase in triplets will increase lamb mortality rates, but housing ewes, when managed well, will result in reduced lamb mortality. Intensification of lamb finishing will be by improved nutrition.
Intensification of beef production will include more breeding of heifers at 15 months, and more problems with dystocia. Intensification of pastoral production will have positive and negative effects on animal welfare. The balance will be determined by the quality of management and stockmanship, and the pressure on businesses to be profitable.
KEY WORDS: Welfare, dairy cattle, sheep, beef cattle, intensification

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