Welfare in the Canadian Equine Industry: Understanding Perceptions and Pilot Testing of An On-Farm Assessment Tool
The Canadian equine industry is a diverse collection of both people and equids, spanning all provinces and territories and encompassing a wide variety of animal uses, lifestyles, and management strategies. Despite the creation of a set of standards of care designed specifically for this industry, relatively little research has been conducted on welfare perception and on-farm evaluation in Canada. To rectify this, this project sought to determine key welfare issues within the Canadian industry and examine the potential of an on-farm assessment as an educational and evaluative tool. Invited equine professionals from across Canada participated in a three-round modified Delphi survey, in which they were asked to identify and rank: welfare issues within the industry, methods for addressing welfare issues, and potential motivators behind poor welfare situations. In addition, they were presented with short scenarios in which they were asked to evaluate the welfare of the animal and justify their ranking. Themes of ignorance were represented in all three rounds, with survey respondents indicating that they felt methods of adding to owners’ knowledge would improve animal care at the individual level. Respondents most commonly identified the physical aspects of threatened welfare (e.g. potential for injury) in vignette scenarios. Utilizing the information gathered from the survey, a comprehensive literature review, and the National Farm Animal Care Council’s Code of Practice for equines, a pilot on-farm welfare assessment tool was created for testing on farms in Southern Ontario (n=26). The tool was used in combination with an owner self-assessment and a post-assessment interview, allowing for valuable feedback regarding the experience. A training curriculum was also developed for assessors in order to track and compare their assessments skill with that of the “gold standard” trainer. This involved both in class and on-farm training. Results from the on-farm pilot assessment provided experimental inter-observer reliabilities for the six animal-based measures used. The pilot test also highlighted the potential usefulness and challenges of implementing a welfare assessment program in the Canadian industry.