Communicating ‘a desire to do better’ - Veterinary Practice
Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now



Communicating ‘a desire to do better’

Veterinary Practice hears the new professor of animal welfare at Bristol spell out his view that communication is one of the main barriers to improving conditions

THE inauguration of David Main
as professor of animal welfare
highlights the extensive work being
carried out at the Bristol veterinary

David is an RCVS specialist in
Animal Welfare, Ethics and Law and a
diplomate of the European college of
Animal Welfare and Behaviour
During his inaugural address he
was quick to emphasise
that what has been
achieved is very much a
team effort and he utilised
sophisticated graphics to
demonstrate collaboration
between the many people
involved in published studies linked to

The theme of the talk was: Is
better animal welfare an opportunity
or an obligation; despite the many
difficulties in actually improving farm
animal welfare, separated from the
theory, his advice is that we should
“rejoice in the good stuff”.

With family and colleagues
listening intently, David outlined his
personal experiences of
communication issues within a
hospital situation over an extended
period of time. From the welfare
trials, with the involvement of
veterinary surgeons and hundreds of
farmers, similar aspects have been

The information is sound, the
methods are proven but it is the
inability to communicate effectively
that delays progress.

Within this context the role of the
veterinary surgeon is highly important
and lessons have been learned from
the work between doctors and

Commencing later this year is a
hands-on study involving veterinary
surgeons engaged in dairy work.
Supported by the BVA Animal
Welfare Foundation, the value of motivational interviewing in
forwarding the uptake of husbandry
veterinary advice is being developed.

Veterinary surgeons in dairy
practice who would like to know more
and possibly take part are invited to
contact the university via

Over 20 years ago, David pointed
out, it was considered that animal
welfare was an obligation and that farmers were the means to an end.
Today there is “an exciting
opportunity to make better use of
existing knowledge and realise the
commercial value of higher welfare”.

Ten years ago it was stated that “it
is the role of Government to establish
levels of welfare on behalf of society
and enforce those standards” but only
“where the market on its own cannot
deliver some or all of the objectives”.

Husbandry advisory tool

Various studies combined knowledge
of disease processes and husbandry
risks with farm-specific diagnosis and
farm-specific risks to suggest control
methods and a husbandry advisory
tool was developed to facilitate this

Lessons were learned by
application in dairy cattle lameness,
tail biting in pigs and injurious pecking
in hens. The Healthy Feet Project has
been taken up by DairyCo.

Beak trimming is an ongoing issue
with the possibility of legislation and
the development of FeatherWel,
promoting bird welfare, is an industry
initiative. David makes the point that
in the areas of pecking and tail biting,
veterinary advice is often not sought
and veterinary surgeons are not routinely engaged to
develop on-farm

The problem
revolves in that if
veterinary surgeons are
not involved with
clients on these issues
then the demand to
keep abreast of
research and positive
developments remains
low. Extending the
scope of veterinary
consultations to improve farm animal
welfare is a major aim.

In carrying out a welfare
assessment, the available welfare
resources lead onto improved welfare

With cattle, resources include the
training, experience and personality of
the stockman, the environmental
conditions of housing, diet, social
grouping and animal genetics with
outcomes related to animal behaviour,
lying times, fearfulness, social
interaction, health, body condition,
injuries and the recording of
medicines, mortality and production.

Farm assurance has
moved forward with
Bristol developing
assessment protocols for
pigs, cattle and poultry.

The vision of
AssureWel is that all
assurance schemes will
use welfare outcome
assessments to their full
potential to improve
animal welfare. There
are two goals: to deliver
optimum welfare
assurance within RSPCA
Freedom Food and Soil
Association certification
and to promote uptake of outcome-
based assurance within UK and
European farm assurance schemes.

The first year of the project concentrates on laying
hens, the second year
dairy and year three
onwards pigs, broilers
sheep and beef. The
initiative has been
operating for two years
with hens and a
reduction in pecking is
recorded with over
half of the 800
participating farms
initiating husbandry

Welfare issues directly influence
supermarkets. Examples of headlines
linking the retailer with welfare
problems on supplier farms show that
the farmer is no longer seen as an
independent producer. It is therefore
reasonable that the retailer seeks
assurance that no adverse welfare
takes place on supplier farms.

Welfare assessments are seen as a
means of matching consumer
expectations. But not everyone within
the veterinary industry agrees that
assessments lead to improvements in

Some people indicate that “we’re
faced with the all-pervading and ever-
increasing miasma of
quality assurance in
livestock production,
particularly in the
field of animal
welfare. It’s swelling
the coffers of
departments, of
charities and of
limited companies
that ‘deliver’ quality
assurance, whatever
that might mean”.

Professor Main
indicates that this view indicates the need to express the benefits. Thus, the
comment “rejoice in the good stuff”.
There are four approaches to welfare improvement: education
providing knowledge, enforcement
insisting on action, economics
providing financial incentives and
encouragement with positive

Veterinary organisations have an
opportunity to be more proactive
with animal welfare policies so that
individual veterinary surgeons are
motivated to do their best for animal

On-line tutorials for students have
been developed and EUWelNet for
official veterinarians has been
positively received in 11 countries.
David raised the question that,
“Education can have an effect on
inspectors but will it change
compliance amongst farmers?”

Cost not a major concern

Studies have shown that the barriers
to lameness control in dairy herds are
lack of time and lack of labour. Cost
is not considered by the farmers to
be a major concern for them.

Pride in a healthy herd is
identified as the main motivator to
control lameness. The challenge is to
develop a participatory approach.
Being involved is believed to be a key
driver for effectiveness.

Advancing communication skills
in challenging emotional situations,
including euthanasia and animal abuse, are being developed. In
medicine there is emphasis on what
would a friend say? This includes
thinking about how friends would
talk about the problem rather than
trying to calculate an ideal
empathetic response.

Health practitioners are advised
to practise a guiding rather than
directing style, to develop strategies
to elicit the patient’s own
motivation to change and to refine
listening skills and respond by
encouraging change talk from the

The development of
motivational interviewing is
expected to promote the uptake of
veterinary advice and improve
cattle welfare.

David concluded his
presentation with the statement
that higher, positive or better
welfare is about recognising,
understanding, quantifying and
communicating our desire to do
better for animals.

There is an opportunity to
make better use of existing
knowledge and realise the
commercial value of higher welfare
and an obligation to support
evidence-based interventions and
facilitate a market in higher welfare
products. It was a most interesting

Have you heard about our
IVP Membership?

A wide range of veterinary CPD and resources by leading veterinary professionals.

Stress-free CPD tracking and certification, you’ll wonder how you coped without it.

Discover more