The welfare of an animal relates primarily to its ability to cope, both with its external environment – such as housing, handling by humans, weather and the presence of other animals, and with its internal environment – such as specific injuries or illnesses and nutritional status. Welfare refers not only to the internal and external environments of animals, but how they feel.
Animal welfare refers to an animal’s physical and mental state, and how it is coping with its situation. According to the World Organization for Animal Health (Office International des Epizooties 2013) an animal is in a good state of welfare if it is healthy, comfortable, well nourished, safe, able to express its innate behaviour, and is not suffering from negative states such as pain, fear and distress.
Good animal welfare requires disease prevention and veterinary treatment, appropriate shelter, management, nutrition, humane handling, transport and humane slaughter.
Not only is it important to understand what welfare is, but we also need to know why it is of importance. Animal welfare is fundamentally linked to animal health and production (Moberg 2001). Both clinical and subclinical disease states will
compromise the welfare of animals.
For example, lameness causes a cow to feel pain, and as a result, this will impact on her ability to feed, rest, move and cope with other illnesses and stressful situations that she experiences.
Poor welfare can also have a negative impact on the health of a cow. Stressful situations, such as negative treatment by a stockperson or ongoing aggressive interactions with other animals in the herd, will result in physiological and behavioural changes in the animal that are aimed at helping it to deal with the stress.