Body condition has long been used when assessing animal health and productivity, both important indicators of animal welfare; however, assessments of animal welfare must also consider the extent to which animals’ emotional needs are met. New Zealand’s codes of welfare focus on using body condition score as a measure of emaciation, requiring action to be taken at very low scores and generally recommending higher scores. In anticipation of future code reviews, the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee is exploring our understanding of body condition as a measure of welfare, with a view to incorporating standards that also take account of animals’ affective or emotional states. Most of the scientific literature appears related to optimising animal health and production and body condition score is a good indicator of an animal’s energy reserves. While affective or emotional state may be more difficult to assess, thinner animals seem more motivated to feed as they spend more time foraging and consume more feed than ‘better’ conditioned animals. In addition, animals losing condition were more interested, anxious or excited, suggesting higher feeding motivation and possibly hunger. A more nuanced understanding is needed that considers the circumstances of the animal; what individual animals are feeling; and that body condition per se may not necessarily reflect hunger. In addition, the stage at which compromises to body condition are deemed unreasonable or unnecessary, and the reserves required in extensive environments, suggest more complex research, regulatory and non-regulatory understandings and interventions will be required. Keywords: body condition; survival; production; health; behaviour; feelings; animal-welfare standards

MW, Fisher, KE Schütz, and Verkerk

Proceedings of the New Zealand Society of Animal Production, Volume 80, Online, 39-44, 2020
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