Animal Welfare Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Animal Welfare August 15, 2013 Print Friendly and PDF
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General

Swine Welfare

Poultry Welfare

Cattle Welfare

Sheep and Goat Welfare

Horse Welfare

Camelid Welfare


 

General

 

Q:  What is animal welfare?

A:  Animal welfare may be defined as the “state of an individual in relation to its environment.”  Additionally, this involves “how much has to be done [by the animal] to cope [with its environment] and how well or badly coping attempts succeed” (Broom, 1991).  Animal welfare ranges on a continuum from very good to very poor and is able to be measured scientifically. 

 

Q:  What is the difference between animal welfare and animal rights?

A:  The philosophy of animal rights is opposed to any use of animals;animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, or use for entertainment”.  Morally, animal activists believe that there is not a relevant difference between humans and animals, and they vow to recognize and uphold the individual rights of all species.  In general, most animal activists hold the belief that humans should not interfere with the lives of animals and simply “leave them alone”. 

In contrast, those who believe that animals are able to contribute to the welfare of humans (by providing a source of food, fiber, work, or companionship; by serving biomedical research; or education, etc.) believe that in doing so, humans have a moral obligation to protect and provide for the well-being of those animals. 

 

Q:  How can animal welfare be assessed?

A:  Assessing animal welfare has proven at times to be a challenge for scientists.  The first approach uses physiological metrics, such as stress hormone levels (adrenocorticotropic hormone or cortisol), pain indicators (endorphins, enkephalins, or substance P), heart or respiratory rates, or body temperature to assess an animal’s well-being.  In sum, a change in the animal’s welfare can cause a change in its physical and physiological states and thus trigger a physiological response.  Measurements of activity in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal cortex and sympathetic-adrenal medullary systems are very useful in the assessment of how difficult it is for an animal to cope with both long- and short-term stressors.

The second approach utilized is the behavioral approach.  One way to measure behavior is by use of a preference test, which is carried out by allowing animals to choose between various resources (space, bedding materials, flooring surfaces, etc.).  Preference is then measured either by the amount of time the animal spends with the resource or simply by which resource is selected.  Abnormal behaviors, such as unresponsiveness, self-mutilation, movement problems, and stereotypes, are also very important behavioral indicators. 

Welfare is also assessed relative to the natural living conditions or behavior of the species.  This third approach is defined by the principle that animals should be kept in “natural” environments and allowed to express “natural” behaviors.  A more analytical version of this approach was expressed by Rollin (1993) who suggested “animals, too, have natures - the pigness of the pig, the cowness of the cow . . . - which are as essential to their well-being as speech and assembly are to us.”  In addition, animal welfare may range from very good to very poor, and it is important to integrate these approaches when assessing the welfare of an animal.  Thus, it is ideal to take a multidisciplinary approach.

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Swine Welfare

 

Q:  What is a farrowing crate?

A:  A farrowing crate is a form of housing for sows, which provides individual areas for the sow and her piglets.

 

Q:  Why are lactating sows kept in farrowing crates?

A:  Farrowing crates were designed to protect and reduce the number of piglets that are accidentally stepped or laid on by the sow.  The most critical time period is during the first three days following piglet birth; approximately 50% of the piglet crushing incidents occur during this time.  If lactating sows are not placed in farrowing crates during this period, there is a potential risk of a 10 to 25% mortality rate per litter.

 

Q:  What is a gestation crate?

A:  A gestation crate is a form of individual housing for sows during pregnancy and was adopted by the pork industry to address hierarchical social behavior.

 

Q:  Why are pregnant pigs housed in crates?

A:  Female swine show aggressive behavior in order to establish dominance within a group housing design.  Gestation crates minimize aggression and threat of injury and facilitate individualized care, feeding and monitoring.

 

Q:  How are growing pigs housed?

A:  The growing-finishing state refers to pigs from 8 or 9 weeks of age until they reach a mature body weight of 265 to 275 pounds.  Traditionally, pigs have been housed in groups according to size and age of the pigs with approximately 25 pigs per pen.  However, group sizes have increased significantly, with groups sometimes being as large as 100 to 1,000 pigs per pen.  Regardless of the total number of pigs per group, it is recommended that individual pigs in the early growing phase (60 to 125 lb) have a minimum of 4.0 – 6.0 sq. ft.  During the late finishing stage (231 to 275 lb), this space allotment should be increased to approximately 8.0 – 9.0 sq. ft. per pig.

 

Q:  How do you body condition score a pig?

A:  Body condition scoring in an important management tool and may be used by producers to help optimize production, evaluate health and welfare, and to adjust nutrient requirements.  According the United States Department of Agriculture, the appropriate way to body condition score a pig is:

 

Q:  How do you safely transport pigs?

A:  Please refer to: http://www.extension.org/pages/27248/welfare-of-pigs-during-transport

 

Q:  Why are tails docked in pigs?

A:  Both mature and immature pigs may at times exhibit tail biting or cannibalism, which can then lead to infection, illness, or possibly even death.  Docking tails soon after birth significantly reduces the incidence of this abnormal behavior since the pigs are group housed. 

 

Q:  Why are ears notched in pigs?

A:  In order to keep accurate records, producers must be able to identify pigs from birth.  Ear notching is a routine husbandry practice used for identification purposes and is considered to be the simplest method for animal identification and the one recommended by most breed associations. Ear notching is generally performed soon after birth, and the pain of this procedure is considered to be minimal.  The pig’s right ear is used for the litter mark; all pigs in the same litter have the same ear notches on their right ear.  The pig’s left ear is used to show an individual pig’s number within the litter. 

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Poultry Welfare

 

Q:  What is a battery cage?

A:  Conventional battery cages refer to a system of wire cages that are stacked on top of one another and provide approximately 67 to 86 in2 of floor space per hen (depending upon hen size and cage configuration).  Generally, five to eight hens are housed in one cage (depending on the size of the cage).  The floors are sloped to allow for the automatic collection of eggs.  Manure is also collected outside of the cage and away from the animals.  This system allows for better hygiene, easier management of the hens, cleaner eggs, lower mortality, lower risk of disease and parasitism, less aggression, and better air quality. However, this form of housing also restricts natural behaviors, such as nesting, dust bathing, and perching.

 

Q:  What is a furnished cage?

A:  Furnished cages, also referred to as enriched cages, are an alternative form of housing system to conventional battery cages.  Furnished cages may provide environmental enrichment to hens while maintaining the benefits of a small group size.  This form of housing system includes perches, dustbaths, and nesting areas, which allows the hens to perform more natural behaviors, such as nesting, roosting, and scratching.

 

Q:  What does free-range mean?

A:  The United States Department of Agriculture defines free-range or free-roaming as “the poultry having been allowed access to the outside.”

 

Q:  What is the best way to house laying hens?

A:  There are four main types of housing systems for laying hens: conventional battery cages, furnished cages, non-cage systems, and outdoor systems.  It is very difficult to say that one form of housing system is superior to others; different aspects of hen welfare are influenced by each system, such as space, items of enrichment, etc.  Conventional cages decrease disease transmission as they allow for more thorough cleaning.  However, the main disadvantage of this form of housing is that the cages restrict the natural expression of behavior.  Furnished cages allow the hens to perform more natural behaviors and may decrease the risk of bone breakage compared to conventional cages.  Also, furnished cage systems generally have a lower overall mortality rate.  Yet, the enhanced complexity of the environment may harbor parasites.  Non-cage and outdoor housing systems allow hens to express a full repertoire of behavior.  However, disadvantages of this form of housing system may be increased disease transmission, cannibalism and broken bones, a higher mortality rate, and the increased risk of predators.

 

Q:  What is a broiler chicken?

A:  A broiler is a chicken produced specifically for meat production.

 

Q:  How long does it take for broiler chickens to be ready for the market?

A:  Broilers chickens are specially bred for fast growth and slaughtered when they weigh approximately four pounds, usually between seven and nine weeks of age.  Birds between 12 and 20 weeks of age, typically weighing between five and ten pounds, are called roasters.

 

Q:  How are broiler chickens housed?

A:  Most broiler chickens are housed in enclosed buildings with insulated roofs and litter-covered dirt floors.  This form of housing may have curtain sides or totally enclosed walls. Ventilation is provided either by natural air movement or power ventilation systems using fans; this system is particularly effective in reducing heat stress during the summer.  This form of housing protects the birds from inclement weather, predators, and the spread of disease from wild birds.

 

Q:  How are turkeys housed?

A:  Turkeys are housed indoors in large groups; this form of housing is similar to that for the broiler chicken.  They begin in a starter barn facility, which may house approximately 12,000 birds.  At slightly more than 5 weeks of age, weighing 4.5 to 5 pounds each, the turkeys are moved to the finishing barn facility. Each finishing barn may house approximately 6,000 birds.

 

Q:  Why is beak trimming practiced?

A:  Beak trimming is a routine husbandry procedure practiced in the commercial poultry industry and is also referred to as debeaking or partial beak amputation.  The purpose of this procedure is to reduce cannibalism in flocks; aggressive feather pecking may lead to cannibalism in all types of housing systems.  For more information, please refer to: http://www.extension.org/pages/66245/beak-trimming-of-poultry-in-small-and-backyard-poultry-flocks.

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Cattle Welfare

 

Q:  How are dairy cows housed?

A:  During the last 50 years, housing systems in the dairy industry have changed and currently, tie stalls, freestalls, and dry lots are predominantly used.  According to the 2007 USDA-APHIS National Animal Health Monitoring System report, three of four lactating cows were housed in freestalls (individual beds for cows separated by steel loops with cows having free access to come and go from the bed) or dry lot areas

Heifers and dry cows, the period of time in which they are not lactating, from three weeks prior to calving until calving are typically housed in group pens and are closely monitored by the producer for the onset of giving birth.  When calving appears imminent, cows may be moved to a maternity pen for an individual animal.

The ideal bedding for cows is dry and clean, provides cushion, and minimizes growth of bacteria.  Common bedding sources used in the dairy industry are sand, straw, sawdust or wood products, composted or dry manure, and rubber mats.

 

Q:  Why do dairy cows produce so much milk?

A:  Genetics, feed, and management affect the amount of milk a cow produces. On average nationally, a cows produces about 60 lb/day of milk or about 7 gallons/day, but some cows at the peak of their lactation may produce 150 lb/day.  Feed intake by the cow controls the amount of each nutrient she receives and the amount of milk she can produce.  Thus, the more feed a cow consumes, the more nutrients she will receive, which will govern the amount of nutrients available for milk production.  An efficiently managed feeding program is very important in order to maximize feed intake.  Dairy cows require: a balanced ration to provide the appropriate nutrients, readily available high quality forages, and access to drinking water at all times.

 

Q:  What is rBST?

A:  Recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST) is biologically equivalent to the hormone somatotropin (ST), also known as growth hormone, which is produced by the pituitary gland of the animal.  In lactating dairy cows, bovine somatotropin (bST) regulates milk production; healthy, high-producing cows have a greater pituitary secretion of ST than lower producing cows and cows in late lactation.  Modern recombinant DNA technology allows for the bacterial production of ST, and 1994, the FDA approved the use of rBST for increasing production efficiency (milk output per unit of resource input) of lactating dairy cows. 

 

Q:  What happens to male dairy calves on farms?

A:  Generally, male dairy calves or bull calves are sold during the first week of age and raised for veal or beef production.  A veal calf is raised until it is approximately 20 to 22 weeks of age and may weigh up to 500 lb. 

 

Q:  How do you locomotion score a dairy cow?

A:  Locomotion scoring is based on the direct observation of cows while they are standing and walking, with emphasis on their back posture.  This husbandry practice may be used to detect the early stages of claw (hoof) disorders and to monitor the prevalence of lameness.

Individual animal observations should be made while they are standing or walking on a flat surface that provides adequate footing for the cows.  It is recommended that cows scoring a 2 or 3 be further examined and their hooves trimmed in order to prevent more serious problems.

Dairy Cattle Locomotion Scores and Descriptions (Sprecher et al., 19971)

Locomotion score

Clinical description

Description

1

Normal

Stands and walks normally with a level back; makes long confident strides.

2

Mildly lame

Stands with flat back but arches when walks; gait is slightly abnormal.

3

Moderately lame

Stands and walks with an arched back and short strides with one or more legs; slight sinking dew-claws in limb opposite to the affected limb may be evident.

4

Lame

Arched back standing and walking; favoring one or more limbs but can still bear some weight on them; sinking of the dew-claws is evident in the limb opposite to the affected limb.

5

Severely lame

Pronounced arching of back; reluctant to move, with almost complete weight transfer off the affected limb.

1Locomotion Scoring of Dairy Cattle: adapted from Sprecher, D.J.; Hostetler, D.E.; Kaneene, J.B. 1997. Theriogenology 47:1178-1187 and contributions from Cook, N.B., University of Wisconsin.


 

Q:  How do you body condition score a dairy cow?

A:  Body condition scoring provides an objective indication of the amount of fat cover on a dairy animal.  This evaluation is accomplished by assigning a score or number relative to the amount of fat observed on several skeletal parts of the cow.

1 - Emaciated

 

The individual vertebrae of the spine are prominent. The short ribs are sharp to the touch and give a shelf-like appearance to the loin. The hook and pin bones of the pelvis are well defined. The anal area of the cow is receded displaying a prominent vulva. Considered unfit to travel.

2 - Thin

The short ribs can be felt but are less outstanding. The hook and pin bones are still well-defined, though the area around the anus is less sunken and the vulva is prominent.

3 - Average

The short ribs are palpable with slight pressure. There is no shelf-like appearance to this area. The spine and hook and pin bones are all rounded and smoothed over. The anal area is filled out, and there is no evidence of fat deposits.

4 - Heavy

The short ribs are rounded over with no evidence of a shelf-like appearance and may only be felt with firm palpation. The ridge of the backbone is flattened over the loin and rump areas. The hook bones are smoothed over and the area around the pin bones shows some fat deposits.

5 - Fat

The bone structures of the spine, hook and pin bones, and short ribs are not discernible. There are fat deposits around the tailhead and over ribs. The thighs curve out and the brisket and flanks appear to be very full and heavy.

 

Q:  Why are calves separated at birth from the cows?

A:  Early removal of the calf from the cow is important for both animals’ welfare.  Reasons for early separation include:  ensuring adequate colostrum intake, reducing incidence of disease, and reducing stress on both the cow and her calf. 

Studies have shown that if calves remain with the cow, they may not ingest enough colostrum, which is vital to their health and welfare.  Hand-feeding the appropriate amount of colostrum to the calf following early separation ensures that the calf is off to the proper start.

Newborn calves also have an immature immune system, and early removal of the calf is supported by studies showing a reduced incidence of disease.  For example, calves left with cows for more than two hours after birth have been observed to have a higher risk of infection than those separated directly after birth; Cryptosporidium infection and respiratory disease may increase the calves’ risk of mortality by six times.

In addition, as the amount of time the cow and calf spend together increases, their response to separation will also increase; the more time spent together, the more severe the response.  Many studies have indicated that calves left with the cow for more than 24 hours will have a faster heart rate for a longer period of time and vocalize more frequently than calves separated from the cow prior to 24 hours, which are indications of a higher stress level. 

 

Q:  Why are the tails of cows docked?

A:  The practice of tail-docking began in New Zealand in the early 1900s for a number of reasons: to reduce the chance of spreading Leptospirosis through the urine to the milking personnel, enhance udder cleanliness, and to improve the quality of milk through the reduction of mastitis and somatic cell counts.  Because this practice was believed to contribute to worker health and safety, as well as produce a better product for the consumer, tail-docking was established in the United States.  However, over recent years, the practice of tail-docking appears to be on the decline.  Current scientific literature indicates that routine tail-docking does not provide specific benefits to the cow.

 

Q:  How do you safely transport cows?

A:  For detailed information, please refer to http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELDEV3008268.

 

Q:  Why is dehorning practiced?

A:  Most all dairy animals are born with horns.  Dehorning is a management practice utilized to reduce the risk of injury to the animals within the herd and farm employees.  Dehorning calves at a young age minimizes the potential complications the calf may incur.  A number of long-term welfare advantages result from this husbandry procedure:  dehorned cattle are easier and less dangerous to handle and transport; present a lower risk of interference from dominant animals at feeding time; pose a reduced risk of injury to udders, flanks, and eyes of other cattle; present a lower injury risk for handlers; exhibit fewer aggressive behaviors associated with individual dominance; and may incur fewer financial penalties at the time of sale. 

Before horn buds fully emerge, disbudding can be done with chemical (a caustic paste) means or a hot iron.  After the horn buds are have formed and erupted, physical methods of dehorning include the use of embryotomy wire, guillotine shears, or dehorning knives, saws, spoons, cups, or tubes.

The use of a local anesthesia should be used when dehorning animals.

 

Q:  What is castration?

A:  Castration of a bull (male) calf is the process of removal of the testicles by either surgical or non-surgical methods. 

 

Q:  Why are male calves castrated?

A:  Castration of male cattle is a common management practice throughout the world.  Castration reduces aggression, reduces sexual activity (by lowering testosterone levels), prevents unintentional pregnancies, and decreases the number of animals with a high muscle pH at the time of slaughter. 

 

Q:  How are calves castrated?

A:  There are two primary ways to castrate calves: (1) surgical removal or (2) elastrator rings.  Surgical removal involves physically removing the testicles by making an incision in the calf’s scrotom (the skin surrounding the testicles).  An experienced operator can complete castration using this method quickly and effectively, with a minimal amount of stress imposed on the calf.  Elastrator rings can be applied above the testicles using a special applicator.  The elastrator ring prohibits blood flow to the testicles, and eventually the testicles will wither and separate from the body. 

 

Q:  How are beef cattle raised?

A:  Most brood cows (female beef cows) and young calves spend the majority of time on pasture.  At 12 to 16 months of age, most young cattle are transported to a feedlot where they are fed a nutritionally balanced and energy-rich diet for approximately four to six months.  Cattle in a feedlot are generally separated into groups of 100 animals and live in pens that allow 125 to 250 square feet of space per animal.  During this phase, cattle are carefully monitored to ensure optimum health and welfare until they reach a desired body weight for slaughter.

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Sheep and Goat Welfare

 

Q:  Why are the tails of sheep docked?

A:  The tails of certain breeds of sheep are docked to improve the health and welfare of the sheep and lambs.  Tail docking prevents fecal matter from collecting around the tail and hindquarter areas, which reduces fly strike. Otherwise, flies often lay eggs in the fecal contaminated wool, the eggs hatch, and the larvae (maggots) can cause health risks to the animal and reduce the quality of the hide. Some breeds of sheep (Finn sheep and some hair sheep breeds) have shorter tails and/or fiber on the tail.  These breeds may not benefit from routine tail docking.

 

Q:  How are the tails of sheep docked?

A:  The easiest and most common method of tail-docking is to apply a rubber ring or band around the tail using an elastrator tool.  The rubber ring will cut off the blood supply to the tail, causing it to fall after several days.  Also, the tail can be cut off with a sharp knife.

Although the range may vary, tail-docking should occur before the lambs are two weeks of age, and the tail should be docked at the distal end of the caudal fold.

 

Q:  Why are sheep sheared?

A:  All wool sheep require shearing, as they do not have a continuous growing and shedding cycle when compared to other species.  The fleece keeps the animals warm during the winter months but may become uncomfortably hot during the summer.  Although spring is the most common season for shearing sheep, they may be sheared at any time so long as they have enough wool to keep them warm during the cold months of winter.  Because the sheep require restraint, it should be done quickly, but with care to avoid cuts.   Partial shearing is sometimes done prior to lambing to remove wool from around the udder area so the nipples can be more easily found by the lambs.

 

Q:  Why are goats dehorned?

A:  Please refer to http://www.extension.org/pages/32708/dehorning

 

Q:  Why is it so important to regularly trim the feet of sheep and goats?

A:  Hoof trimming is an essential part of sheep and goat management.  Flocks should be checked on a regular basis for hoof growth.  Overgrown hooves may make walking painful, predispose the animal to other foot and leg problems, and competing for feed difficult.  This may cause sheep and goats to stop eating and exercising.  Animals with overgrown hooves are also very susceptible to joint and tendon problems and arthritis.  Also, breeding animals use their hind legs during mating; mating and reproductive performance of a flock may seriously be affected if hooves of breeding males are not trimmed.

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Horse Welfare

 

Q:  What is an “unwanted horse?”

A:  An unwanted horse is simply a horse that has become unwanted by its owner.  Reasons for why a horse may become unwanted include: changes in an owner’s situation, such as employment status or loss of owner interest in or use for the horse; the horse may be injured or too old to perform specific uses; or the horse may be unmanageable.  Regardless of the reason, an unwanted horse no longer has a permanent home and has become an increasing problem due to the depressed economy and reduction in horse slaughter. 

 

Q:  Are there laws to govern abuse and neglect?

A:  Every state has laws that define animal abuse and neglect; penalties often vary from state to state.   

 

Q:  What is the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act?

A:  For more information, please refer to http://www.extension.org/pages/25134/highlight:-unintended-consequences-of-a-us-ban-on-the-humane-slaughter-of-horses

 

Q:  What is soring?

A:  In the early 1950’s, horse owners and trainers used soring, as opposed to conventional training methods, in order to accentuate their horses’ gait and give them a competitive edge in various shows.  Soring is accomplished by irritating or blistering a horse’s forelegs through the injection or application of chemicals or mechanical irritants.  Sored horses may develop permanent scars in the pastern area.  The accentuated gate may also be accomplished using improper hoof-trimming or pressure-shoeing techniques.  When the horse walks, it responds by quickly lifting its front legs to relieve the pain.

 

Q:  What is the Horse Protection Act (HPA)?

A:  The Horse Protection Act is a Federal law that prohibits horses subjected to soring from participating in shows, sales, exhibitions, or auctions.  The HPA also prohibits drivers from transporting sored horses to or from any of the events previously listed.  This law is enforced by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).  The APHIS works actively with the horse industry to prevent and protect against such abuse.

 

Q:  What is the Pregnant Mares’ Urine (PMU) Industry?

A:  The PMU Industry involves the collection of the urine of pregnant mares from which estrogen conjugates are extracted for the manufacture of hormone replacement therapy, Premarin, for the treatment of menopause and osteoporosis. 

All horse owners involved in the PMU industry must abide by a highly regulated Code of Practice in order to maintain their contract with Ayerst Organics Ltd., the manufacturer of the product.  The horse owners are subject to monthly inspections by the manufacturer and are required to have their horses in a herd health program; veterinarians regularly visit the owners every four to eight weeks to ensure the health and welfare of the horses.

 

Q:  How do you body condition score a horse?

A: 

Horse Body Condition Scores and Descriptions (Adapted from Henneke et al., 19831)

Score

Condition Description

1 - Poor

Animal extremely emaciated. Spinous processes, ribs, tailhead, and point of hip and point of buttocks project prominently; bone structure of withers, shoulders, and neck easily noticeable; no fatty tissue can be felt.

2 - Very Thin

Animal emaciated. Slight fat covering over the base of spinous processes; transverse processes of the lumbar vertebrae feel rounded; spinous processes, ribs, tailhead, and point of hip and point of buttocks prominent; withers, shoulders, and neck structures faintly discernible.

3 - Thin

Fat built up about halfway on the spinous processes; transverse processes cannot be felt; slight fat cover over ribs; spinous processes and ribs easily discernible; tailhead prominent, but individual vertebrae cannot be identified visually; point of buttocks appear rounded but easily discernible; point of hip not distinguishable; withers, shoulders, and neck accentuated.

4 - Moderately Thin

Slight ridge along back; faint outline of ribs discernible; tailhead prominence depends on conformation, but fat can be felt around it; point of hip not discernible; withers, shoulders, and neck not obviously thin.

5 - Moderate

Back is flat (no crease or ridge); ribs not visually distinguishable but easily felt; fat around tailhead beginning to feel spongy; withers appear rounded over spinous processes; shoulders and neck blend smoothly into body.

6 - Moderate to Fleshy

May be slight crease down back; fat over ribs spongy; fat around tailhead soft; fat beginning to be deposited along the side of withers, behind shoulders, and along the sides of neck.

7 - Fleshy

May have crease down back; individual ribs can be felt, but there is noticeable fat between ribs; fat around tailhead soft; fat deposited along withers, behind shoulders, and along neck.

8 - Fat

Crease down back; difficult to feel ribs; fat around tailhead very soft; area along withers filled with fat; area behind shoulder filled with fat; noticeable thickening of neck; fat deposited along inner thighs.

9 - Extremely Fat

Obvious crease down back; patchy fat appearing over ribs; bulging fat around tailhead, along withers, behind shoulders, and along neck; fat along inner thighs may cause them to rub together; flank filled with fat.

1Henneke, D. R., G. D. Potter, J. L. Kreider, and B. F. Yeates. 1983. Relationship between condition score, physical measurement, and body fat percentage in mares. Eq. Vet. J. 15:371-372.

 

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Camelid Welfare

 

Q:  What is the proper way to handle llamas and alpacas?

A:  Llamas and alpacas are social animals and respond best to calm and quiet handling.  They are flight animals, and if they perceive danger, they will flee.  Social order among the herd is kept through maintenance of a social hierarchy.  Pregnant females or females with nursing young may be territorial, and intact males may show dominance; more experienced handlers are recommended while working with such animals.  Both llamas and alpacas can be trained to walk with a halter and lead rope. 

 

Q:  How are camelids housed?

A:  Llamas and alpacas may be housed in outdoor or semi-confined housing systems, such as three-sided commodity sheds or barns.  If animals are housed in a group, each individual animal should be provided with the appropriate amount of space and easily accessible to all animals within the group. 

As fiber bearing animals, llamas and alpacas are susceptible to heat stress.  Special attention to hot conditions and the mitigation of heat stress through the provision of shaded areas is recommended.  For animals housed outdoors in the winter months, shelter (artificial or natural) should be available for relief during extreme cold and inclement conditions.  Young animals are more susceptible to cold stress and should be sheltered during the period after birth.

 

Q:  Why are camelids sheared?

A:  Llamas and alpacas are native to areas of relatively cool climates with low humidity and high altitude, and the health and welfare of these animals will benefit from shearing if they are to be raised in warmer climates.  The fiber length will vary among species and among individual animals.  Thus, the importance and frequency of shearing will depend on the climate and the individual animal’s needs. 

 

Q:  Is it necessary to trim the teeth of llamas and alpacas?

A:  When llamas and alpacas are older, their front teeth may grow too long and begin to protrude.  If this occurs, it may become difficult for the animal to continue eating and drinking.  If necessary, it is recommended to consult a local veterinarian.

 

Q:  Why is it important to trim the feet llamas and alpacas?

A:  Camelids evolved in the Andes Mountains, where the rockiness and hard terrain of the mountains naturally wore down their toenails.  If the toenails of llamas or alpacas are left untrimmed, they may start to curl to the side.  This occurs not only in sandy soil situations, but also on pasture.  Older animals that are more sedentary, and late-term pregnant females, who are motivated to exercise, also may need more frequent toenail clipping.

Toenails that twist to the side may cause the toe bones to twist as well, and this can cause actual foot deformity in crias and yearlings, which are still growing. Overly long toenails can also get caught and sprain the toe or cause more serious foot injury.

 

Q:  Do llamas and alpacas spit?

A:  Llamas and alpacas communicate with each other by ear, body and tail positions, shrill alarm calls, or a humming or low-pitch sound.  Spitting among themselves is used to divert bothersome suitors, protect themselves from a threat, or to help establish dominance over other animals. It is rare, but if they are provoked or feel threatened, they may occasionally spit at humans.

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