Cathy Dwyer on Sheep Welfare

Conversations with Clive: #1
April 22, 2022

Cathy Dwyer is Professor in Animal Behaviour and Welfare at the University of Edinburgh, and Director of the Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare Education (JMICAWE).

In March 2022, Prof. Dwyer talked to Clive Phillips for the Conversation with Clive series. In this series, leading farm animal welfare scientists and academic experts share with Clive Phillips their thoughts and experience of farm animal welfare issues, including those related to intensive animal farming systems, and developing countries. These 30-minute recorded dialogues are aimed at upskilling advocacy organizations concerned with farm animal welfare, helping them gain a more nuanced understanding of welfare issues from academics with deep knowledge of animal agriculture systems and direct experience of practices.

Timing of key topics discussed in the 35 minutes conversation:

  • 02:17 Sheep are important for incomes of smallholder farmers in Asia, Africa, South America. "One welfare" approach improving welfare of the animals will also improve the income and livelihoods of the people who depend on them.
  • 04:09 Extensive environments are viewed as good for sheep welfare by the public. But extensively managed systems bring their own suite of problems (e.g. diseases and injuries not diagnosed and treated, predation, heat/cold stress).
  • 06:08 Sheep may be looked after better in advanced countries in terms of better veterinary care, feed nutrition, etc. But farmers in lower income countries have closer relationships with their sheep, which may make the sheep feel less fearful.
  • 09:55 Aging of sheep farmers with many years of experience, and few new entrants. But new farmers may be more interested in new methods and approaches.
  • 11:51 Fly strike. The problem in Australia is worse than that in the U.K.
  • 13:10 Evidence of tail docking to protect against fly strike is mixed. Alternatives to keeping sheep tail clean have trade-offs.
  • 14:40 Shearing causes pain to sheep and is a major welfare challenge.
  • 17:12 Castration of male lambs causes severe pain, but it is a complicated issue. How to make the castration less painful is discussed in policy and animal welfare circles (e.g. use of anesthetics).
  • 20:40 Long distance live transport: The sheep's suffering is not always obvious even though they suffer at multiple levels. Policies about letting the sheep rest during their journeys are discussed, but it is not clear what actually is "rest" (e.g. loading/unloading is stressful). How sheep cope with temperature changes.
  • 27:07 Future of sheep farming: The need to consider sheep's multiple roles depending on locations in the world (e.g. wool, meat, milk, land conservation); interests in sheep farming.
  • 31:15 Sheep welfare in the U.K.: Perceived as higher welfare. New developments after Brexit.
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