Animal welfare and new herding technologies for improvement

By: Dr. Zalmen Hankin // May 2022

Animal welfare is defined as the state of an individual animal in relation to its environment in which it lives. Lately this issue is receiving rising worldwide concern, while being one of the more important aspects in a broader holistic approach of raising animals. According to Fraser et al. (1997) the concept of animal welfare includes three main elements, including; the animal’s normal biological functioning (which, among other things, means ensuring that the animal is healthy and well-nourished), its emotional state (which means the absence of negative emotions, such as pain and chronic fear), and its ability to express certain normal behaviors, while its objectives include, protecting health, preventing pain and distress, promoting comfort, and allowing animals to perform their natural behavior. In addition, animal welfare is considered an important attribute of an overall ‘food quality” concept.
Animal welfare is presented by five freedom principles that were defined by Manteca et al. (2012), they include:
  1. Freedom from hunger and thirst by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health.
  2. Freedom from discomfort by providing an appropriate environment, including shelter and comfortable resting areas.
  3. Freedom from pain, injury or livestock disease by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
  4. Freedom to express their normal behavior by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animals’ own kind.
  5. Freedom from fear and distress by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.
drones for livestock management
Animal welfare as a whole is known to be important for meat production, as poor animal welfare is associated with low production levels. Poor welfare will be presented in the animal’s health, behavior, production, and physiology, while clearest indication of low welfare is presented in stress responses. As so, promoting animal welfare is a key factor for system sustainability and economic viability.

High welfare cattle raised for meat spend most of their time outdoors, they are allowed to express their natural behaviors while consuming the food they prefer the way they are adapted to eating it. But, not always this practice is applied so, and in many cases management can be significantly improved by implementation of new technologies that are continuously emerging. New digital technologies can be used for improving animal condition and maintain normal behaviors. As so, agricultural drones, equipped with cameras can be used for autonomous livestock herding, that in addition to a significant reduction of manpower while minimizing time spent on herding and livestock tools, also tend to improve animal welfare, while on the one hand avoiding animals from fear, and on the other decreasing stress. Even though it is not easy to measure or define welfare rates of the grazing cows’, eye observations that were done during drone livestockd herding, show a much calmer behavior of the cows, compared to the authentic herding by cowboys on horseback, herding by dogs, and by off-road vehicles.

drone flying over livestock
Fraser, D., Weary, D.M., Pajor, E.A. and Milligan, B.N. (1997). A scientific conception of animal welfare that reflects ethical concerns. Animal Welfare, 6: 187-205.

Manteca, X., Mainau, E. and Temple, D. (2012). What is animal welfare? Farm Animal Welfare Education Centre, The farm animal welfare fact sheet, No.1.