Healthy animals perform best, but the emerging field of animal-welfare science suggests their mental health plays a key role that might be measured.
“I think when animals are doing well, they're usually doing well in terms of a lot of the performance parameters that we want to look at. I don't think that's the whole picture though. I think there's a lot of other things when you think about fear, distress, pain, or just even providing a pleasurable experience to an animal I think is important. I don't know that we as an industry have done a very good job of being able to quantify that. And so I think we can quantify some of those performance indicators really well,” says Lily Edwards-Callaway, PhD, an animal welfare scientist at Colorado State University.
The next step would be calculating effects on profitability for commercial animal agriculture.
“And what are the economics of animal welfare? So I think it's there and I think we have some examples of it, but I think we could dig a little deeper to really kind of garner that out of that information,” Edwards-Callaway says.
Digging deeper means looking at an animal’s “affective” state, or we might call their state of mind.
“But the science is there. I think we all, in our own experience, can identify that animals experience emotions. Certainly, they express them differently than we probably do. But I think what's really important with animal welfare is trying to understand how can we measure that? How can we ask the animal how they're feeling in their environment? And there's definitely experimental ways that we can do that,” she says.
Some of that research allows animals to choose environments and activities, comparing performance and dollar impacts based on those choices.
“I think it's a really nice way to think about progress within the animal welfare space” she says.
Growing our industry knowledge of animal welfare could prove profitable, especially in consumer trust.