Report on the Positive Welfare Workshop
By Annie Rayner
The AWRN Workshop held at SRUC Edinburgh on the 11th of May 2017 was a result of a SRUC and University of Bristol Collaborative project in measuring Positive Welfare. The aims of the day were: to understand the current state of positive welfare research; identify priority areas for positive welfare research; and provide feedback and input into a current positive welfare initiative whilst fostering new collaborations across AWRN.
The day started with an introduction by Professor Cathy Dwyer, Cathy provided an overview into the SRUC and University of Bristol positive welfare collaboration. The project is working to identify positive welfare indicators for dairy cattle and sheep by use of literature reviews and participatory workshops to gain farmer input. Cathy shared initial impressions of engaged participating farmers that talk freely and confidently of positive welfare. Following on from Cathy, Professor Alistair Lawrence provided an insightful summary of how far we have come in positive animal welfare research. Alistair discussed how in animal welfare there has been a significant focus on “the dark side” and how animal welfare researchers are following suit of Psychologists towards studies of positive welfare – but Alistair cautioned, there is some way still yet to go, and against a backdrop of increasing production pressures (*Brexit*) and tightening cost of production, the omens are not particularly good. Dr Siobhan Mullan was the final speaker of the morning session, Siobhan provided an overview of farm animal welfare assurance discussing the practicalities and challenges to obtaining a valid and accurate overview of on-farm animal welfare within strict time pressures. The use of ‘measures’ as conversation starters highlighted the benefits to having assessors on farm and the potential for using this assessor – farmer contact in making welfare improvements. Following the morning session, the delegates re-caffeinated and set themselves for discussion in the first of two workshop sessions.
The first workshop sessions divided delegates into (animal named) groups to discuss the approach that the SRUC and University of Bristol positive welfare project was taking in identifying measures. Most groups agreed that the use of an initial literature search was sensible but there wasn’t full agreement in the use of specifically proactive/innovative farmers – some thought that the bias was too great while others saw significant benefits in working with farmers that were engaged in the process. Varied opinions across all workshop topics were fascinating and reflected the variety of stakeholders involved in the day. Perhaps missing from the cohort were farmers themselves and industry personnel – an area identified and discussed by the “Goat group” how can we attract such people to these events or conferences to further the impact of positive animal welfare on policy?
Following lunch, the afternoon session welcomed a talk by Professor Alexander Weiss who discussed the similarities between human and nonhuman primate happiness, primates too have been shown to have mid-life crisis-dips in their happiness! Dr Suzanne Held then discussed the validation of positive animal welfare measures posing an interesting question at the end of her talk - do we really need absolute validity if a measure is reliable and feasible? – this took me back to Siobhan’s talk about practical on farm measures sometimes just forming points of conversation. Dr Andrew Barnes discussed the economics of animal welfare stating how animal welfare sits in an unstable market (*Brexit*) with unclear or unavailable information for consumers, Andrew referred to a need for measurement and transparency to create a market that recognises animal welfare.
For the final workshop session, we returned to our groups to discuss the future research needs for positive animal welfare identifying research methods and potential funding streams to answer the postit-note research questions generated from the day. The ‘Goats’ concluded that positive welfare was so multidisciplinary and relevant to so many stakeholders that we shouldn’t be restricted by research methods (or funding streams…? hopeful thinking?) that positive welfare necessitates collaboration across research areas and stakeholders. This AWRN workshop was a great start to, and example of, such collaborations and joined up thinking.
In addition to this report, you can now view the Powerpoint slides from some of the talks given at this meeting, click here for a page with links to the presentations.