Animal Welfare: Tips for Successful Livestock Farming

Learn livestock management skills for good animal welfare and reducing animal stress.


| November/December 2014



Sheep at the Barn

Animal welfare is an important part of reducing animal stress.

Photo by Terry Wild

Since the domestication of livestock, animal husbands have been watching over their critters keenly for sign of disease, distress, and indications that animals are tired, thirsty, hot, you name it. And as we learned to read our stock, we’ve also come to understand them better, gaining valuable insight into the behavioral biology of the animals we tend, and especially new insights into how we can work best with them.

Down to a science

Stressors play an important role in livestock fertility, how quickly they put on weight, and how well they perform in a general sense. The effects of stressors, not surprisingly, are far-reaching.

In her essay, “Stress Management for Equine Athletes,” Karyn Malinowski, PhD., Rutgers University extension equine specialist, writes, “chronic stress and subsequent release of cortisol has been implicated in many deleterious conditions including aggressive behavior; decreased growth and reproductive capability; inhibition of the immune system; and increased risks of gastric ulceration, colic, and diarrhea.”

Cortisol, a steroid hormone, isn’t just unique to equines. Higher levels of cortisol indicate elevated stress levels, which have widespread malignant effects on most animals — from poor bone formation to more common problems.

In short, if you want to improve the performance of your livestock and keep healthier, higher-quality animals with improved fertility rates and a higher quality of milk, eggs, meat or other product, it is essential to pay attention to livestock stress levels. Finding ways to reduce those levels during everyday care and handling is a big part of the responsible animal husband’s job, and a subject that leading doctor of animal science Dr. Temple Grandin has spent years studying.

Environmental stressors

Livestock stress comprises two basic categories: physical stressors — including weather, injury, illness and exertion — and psychological stressors — such as changes in environment, introduction of new animals, loud noises, mistreatment (also a physical stressor), and auditory and visual stressors (many animals fear walking into a dark building when it is bright outside). The sensory environment in which animals live is just as important yet can be less obvious.





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