Animal welfare is no longer just part of the activist agenda; now it is being taken into account by scientists, and assessment protocols are being produced.

Did you know that a name can make more milk? This was reported nearly three years ago in Science Daily (January 28, 2009). This is what appeared on their website: “Drs. Catherine Douglas and Peter Rowlinson have shown that by giving a cow a name and treating her as an individual, farmers can increase their annual milk yield by almost 500 pints.

The study, published online in the academic journal Anthrozoos, found that on farms where each cow was called by her name, the overall milk yield was higher than on farms where the cattle were simply herded as a group.

"Just as people respond better to the personal touch, cows also feel happier and more relaxed if they are given a bit more one-to-one attention," explains Dr. Douglas, who works in the School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development at Newcastle University.

The attitudes of farmers with their cows have long been known to influence the behavior of the animals. The avoidance/distance test when animals are feeding is a good indicator. In the test, four categories of animals were observed: cows that moved by more than one meter when approached; cows that moved less than one meter when approached; cows that moved 50 cm when approached, and cows that could be touched immediately on approach.

Now, tests and protocols are being used not just as tools for dealing with animal protection groups, but they are also being used to produce additional or more highly-valued products. As a basis for further development, the European Council produced three separate books on welfare quality assessment protocols for cattle, pigs and poultry. These books were presented on October 9, 2009 at the animal welfare conference in Uppsala, Sweden.

Assessment systems to evaluate the quality of animal welfare on farms or at slaughter have also been developed by researchers of the European project Welfare Quality®. These systems, designed for three livestock species (and seven “animal types”) are founded upon animal-based measures. The systems combine a science-based methodology for assessing farm animal welfare with a standardized way of integrating this information to assign farms and slaughterhouses to one of four categories (from poor to excellent) regarding animal welfare.

The developed protocols can be used not only to assess the animals’ welfare but also to provide feedback and support to producers, thereby helping them to enter some higher-value markets. Furthermore, they give clear and reliable information for retailers and consumers on the welfare status of animals from which their food products were derived.

For producers, the size and layout of stables are very important and need to be carefully considered during the design stage. For instance, collisions against bars during the process of lying down or dirty udders are a sign of bad shed planning.

The well known Spanish researcher Alex Bach has shown that non-feeding factors can greatly influence the level of farm production. He compared nearly 150 milking farms which received exactly the same feed from the same feed plant (total mixed ration), and showed that non-feeding factors could explain a 14 kg/cow difference.

Now it seems there is a good reason to look at “details” regarding animal welfare. Apparently they are no longer just “minor points.”