Monitoring Sheep Welfare in Organic and Conventional Farms

Abstract: The present study was undertaken to evaluate the inter-observer reliability of a welfare monitoring scheme to be applied to sheep, and compare the welfare state of the animals between 10 organic and 10 conventional sheep farms. Two trained observers performed recordings. A graded point protocol was used, that relies on five sheets mostly derived by the Animal Needs Index, which is mainly based on resource-based parameters. Therefore, in the fifth sheet animal-based parameters, deemed relevant to sheep welfare, were taken into account. In particular, the following animal-based variables were assessed: integument alterations, animal dirtiness, hoof overgrowth, lameness and lesions, which where scored on the basis of their prevalence (number of affected animals/numbers of observed animals), longevity (age in years), and mutilations, such as de-horning and caudotomy, evaluated in terms of presence/absence. No significant differences were observed between organic and conventional farms in terms of ANI scores, housing characteristics and animal-based parameters. This result was not surprising, as most of the farms, both conventional and organic, based their farming systems on an extensive use of the land by grazing animals. The monitoring protocol proved to be feasible (the mean time needed to perform the assessment of welfare was 85min per farm) and reliable: a significant Spearman''s correlation coefficient between observers was observed for total score and all sheets. As to animal-based parameters, body condition could not be assessed visually due to the presence of flee in winter; the correlation between observers was significant for integument alterations, animal dirtiness, hoof overgrowth and lameness, whereas inter-observer reliability was not significant for lesions. This result indicated that more training is needed for the assessment of lesions in order to increase the reliability of the measure. In addition, we suggest visiting farms in early summer, soon after shearing, in order to make easier the detection of lesions and the assessment of body condition. © Elsevier Science

Reference: Napolitano, F. F., De Rosa, G. G., Ferrante, V. V., Grasso, F. F., & Braghieri, A. A. (2009). Monitoring the welfare of sheep in organic and conventional farms using an ANI 35 L derived method. Small Ruminant Research, 83(1-3), 49-57. Available online at: