Defining Animal Science, Welfare & Husbandry
The fields of animal science, husbandry and welfare are interrelated. The knowledge that people gain through a study of animal science is often applied to animal husbandry. Animal science can also influence how animal welfare is judged and monitored.
So what is animal science? And how does it influence society’s views of animals, their uses and their welfare?
- Animal science is usually described as the study of the biology of domestic animals, including livestock and horses.
- Animal science also includes the study of companion animals, including dogs and cats.
- Animal science can involve studying and learning about animal production, nutrition, behaviour, breeding and technology.
Animal science is helping us to learn more about animal sentience – a concept that is getting more recognition. Sentience means that animals:
- Are aware of their environment
- Can experience different emotions
- Have the ability to learn from experience and make choices
- Experience bodily sensations, such as pain, hunger, heat and cold
- Can remember, process, and assess information to meet their needs
Understanding animal sentience, or how an animal experiences their environment, is an important consideration of their welfare.
Animal welfare relates to how safe, healthy and comfortable an animal is in its daily life. It refers to the state and well-being of the animal.
Like people, animals suffer when they are uncomfortable. They need space and contact with other animals in order to play and behave naturally. If they are injured or ill, animals feel pain, and so they should be examined and treated by a veterinarian. If an animal is healthy, comfortable, safe, well nourished, and able to move and behave in a natural way and not suffering from pain, fear, stress or distress, it is considered to be in a state of good welfare. Animal science helps us identify the indicators and evidence of good welfare.
Animal science tells us that good animal welfare requires:
- Adequate health (disease prevention and veterinary treatment)
- Adequate environment (shelter, fresh air, appropriate lighting, thermally comfortable)
- Appropriate socialization and ability to express normal behaviour
- Appropriate nutrition (balanced diet, palatable water)
- Humane handling (to reduce fear and distress)
The treatment and care that an animal receives is referred to as animal care or animal husbandry. The term “animal husbandry” essentially means “looking after” or providing care for animals. People become specialists in animal husbandry when they are involved in occupations such as farming, ranching, sheep herding or animal breeding. Anyone who takes care of domestic animals, especially large groups is practising animal husbandry.
People involved in the care of animals look to animal welfare guidelines as well as animal science for help in providing the best possible care for their animals. The most widely accepted deﬁnition of animal welfare is perhaps the Five Freedoms, developed in the United Kingdom to provide guidelines for basic and acceptable levels of care.
Different Areas of Concern (and Values)
People tend to emphasize different areas of concern when considering the welfare of animals.
There are three main areas of concern. These different areas reflect different sets of values that people hold.
- Basic Health and Functioning: This focuses on the physical health of animals including, ensuring proper nutrition and freedom from disease and injury.
- Affective states: This focuses on the mental state of animals, or how they feel. Do they feel stressed, content, fearful, etc.
- Natural living: This focuses on the ability for animals to live reasonably natural lives by exhibiting their normal behaviours.
These areas reflect different values and provide rationale for different approaches to animal welfare. For example, one farmer may place high value on natural living and choose to raise their animals outdoors where they can exhibit a wide range of natural behaviours. Another farmer may place high value on health and function and will raise their animals inside where conditions can be better controlled to manage nutrition and health. Although emphasis tends to be placed on one area, all areas must be considered to ensure good welfare of the animals as illustrated in Figure 1.