Quoting a US definition, Dennis said animal welfare means how an animal is coping with the conditions in which it lives.
“An animal is in a good state of welfare if (as indicated by scientific evidence) it is healthy, comfortable, well nourished, safe, able to express innate behaviour and if it is not suffering from unpleasant states such as pain, fear, and distress. Good animal welfare requires disease prevention and veterinary treatment, appropriate shelter, management, nutrition, humane handling and slaughter”.
Dennis said the big animal welfare issues in Australia were mulesing, castration, live export, slaughter techniques, intensive systems, tail docking of cattle, dehorning and others.
Another is lack of appropriate shelter for many paddock raised animals. In the last few decades farmers have increasingly adopted Landcare tree planting techniques not only to care better for their land but to also to maximise livestock production.
On the other hand Dennis said a group of visiting Iowa farmers, could not understand Australian farmers’ increased focus on planting trees and shrubs, when in their state they planted no trees on their farms.
Dennis highlighted country (farmers’) versus city (consumers’) attitudes to animal welfare.
Farmers: “What do city people know about farming?” City people: “Farmers are bastards!” Farmers: “They’re greenie, leftie do gooders; they don’t understand … let us get on with it. We are the custodians of the land; we love our animals."
Mulesing wrinkly Merino sheep’s breeches is a contentious Australian and international animal welfare issue Dennis addressed.
Responses to the controversy include: Don’t respond; it needs to be done to prevent fly strike; do it but with anaesthetic; genetically select within the breed for unwrinkled breeches; use pegs (clamps) to “rubber ring” wrinkled breeches and select a breed with clean breeches or one that sheds its fleece.
One picture Dennis showed of the mulesed area of a sheep surrounded by a much larger area that was badly fly blown, highlighted to this writer the futility of the technique.