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Neiker-Tecnalia participates in a European project for improving the welfare of farm animals

This release is available in Spanish.

The Department of Animal Production at Neiker-Tecnalia, with the cooperation of Ikerbasque, is participating in the AWIN -Animal Welfare Indicators project. This research project financed by the European Union counts with international experts in animal welfare from 11 centres. The group of researchers met at the Scottish Agricultural College of the University of Edinburgh on the 10 and 11 of May, to initiate a research project with the fundamental objective of designing protocols of evaluation for the welfare of sheep, goats, horses, donkeys and turkeys, with special emphasis on determining possible early warning indicators of pain amongst these species. The study also aims to determine to what extent maternal stress caused by a number of handling practices may affect to the potential of their offspring.

One of the specific objectives of the work is to determine the degree of pain of the animals during the various phases of rearing. The research project aims to develop non-invasive protocols for evaluating welfare, pain as well as the effects of conditions such as mastitis or lameness. Likewise, experiments will be carried out on the attitude of farmers on managing painful conditions.

Determining pain in farm animals is not an easy task, as many of these animals have developed great capacity to hide it over their evolutionary history. This is due to the fact that these species in the past were object of predators and, if they were to show external signs of pain or injury, such as limping, they would be an easy target for the predators. This is why these animals, throughout their evolution, have developed strategies for hiding pain. This survival mechanism in the wild causes problems in animal husbandry, as the animal may be suffering pain before it becomes obvious and palliative treatment can be applied. Thus the need to have a scientific protocol for an early warning of painful conditions.

Severe episodes of pain and stress in farm animals may affect the embryonic development of the foetus and of young animals in their post-growth stages. Neiker-Tecnalia, together with the Scottish Agricultural College and the University of Norway, will actively participate in this work, with the aim of determining to what extent stress during gestation and the application of different handling practices can affect to the "prenatal programming" of young animals. This may have consequences in the development, the behaviour and the physical condition of baby animals.

Physical space for each animal

The quality of the physical space assigned to each animal within the farm is to be another central focus of the objectives of the program, with specific lines of work which will be developed at Neiker. The density, number of animals per unit of available surface, and the number of animals per group may decisively determine their welfare. The research will encompass the long term effects of quality of human contact with gestating females on their offspring.

A key objective of this international project is to establish a world centre for research and education in animal welfare. It is to be a virtual, web-based centre where existing knowledge on the matter will be brought together and placed at the disposal of students, researchers, legislators, farmers and consumers. Education and awareness campaigns at all the stages involved in farm animal production are a fundamental step for enhancing animal welfare standards throughout the world.

The participating bodies in the AWIN project are: the Scottish Agricultural College, Scotland; the University of Norway; the University of Milan, Italy; Neiker-Tecnalia, Spain; the Centro de Estudios Superiores Positivo, Brazil; the Technical University of Lisbon, Portugal; Cambridge University, Great Britain; the University of Indiana and Washington, USA; the Institute for Animal Science, the Czech Republic; the Havelland Equine Clinic, Germany.

The Neiker-Tecnalia research team is led by the Ethologist, Dr. Inma Estvez (Ikerbasque Research Professor), and the doctors in Veterinary Science, Roberto Ruiz and Ignacia Beltrn de Heredia, and with the collaboration of the Agricultural Engineer, Ms Josune Arranz.


Contact: Irati Kortabitarte
Elhuyar Fundazioa

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