Integrating innovative TECHnologies along the value Chain to improve small ruminant welfARE management

What are the most important welfare issues for sheep and goats in Europe?

By Cathy Dwyer (SRUC)
Scottish Blackface ewe and lamb standing – Copyright SRUC

Although the welfare of sheep and goats are often considered to be good, particularly in comparison to species that are farmed more intensively, there are still welfare issues that need to be addressed. Many of these issues arise because animals are managed in large groups and in an extensive environment which can be hard to monitor or observe. The TechCare project aims to provide a solution to this through Precision Livestock Farming approaches, but to achieve this we also need to be able to target the most important welfare issues that stakeholders are more concerned about for the sector. As a first step identifying these priority areas, we conducted a review of the scientific and other literature to identify all the welfare issues for sheep and goats that have been identified.  We found more than 80 issues per species where there was an impact on welfare, although some of these are more important sources of welfare compromise than others. Using the expertise within the TechCare team we reduced these issues to approximately 30 of the most important issues. These included issues relating to chronic endemic disease, nutritional management, behavioural issues and the suitability of the environment, especially in housed animals. Stakeholder discussion groups were then held in each country to gain the views of different actors in the sector, focusing on meat sheep, dairy sheep or dairy goats, and to identify the most important issues for sheep and goats farmed in Europe. The outcome of this process was a final list of the key welfare issues for these species, which will be the focus of the work of TechCare. For sheep, the main welfare issues were related to management (mainly outdoors or mainly indoors) and not to production purpose (meat or milk). For sheep managed outdoors the top three issues were: Gastrointestinal parasites, lameness and nutritional management; and for sheep managed indoors were: Nutritional management, mastitis and housing conditions. For dairy goats the most important issues were: mastitis, insufficient food or water provision and fighting and food competition.

Sardinian dairy goats – Credit Marilia Gallus, copyright AGRIS