by Sally Colby

Nearly everyone who raises animals is familiar with the Five Freedoms that dictate how they should be raised: Freedom from hunger or thirst; freedom from discomfort or pain; freedom from pain, injury or disease; freedom to express normal behavior; and freedom from fear and distress.

Although the Five Freedoms help to define good animal welfare, a more recently developed concept takes welfare beyond the basics.

At the annual Animal Ag Alliance Summit, Dr. Angela Baysinger, DVM, introduced the concept of the Five Domains. The new model identifies and grades the severity of various welfare components. In her position as animal welfare lead for North America with Merck Animal Health, Baysinger develops science-based animal welfare standards.

Baysinger introduced the concept by explaining that from the livestock producer’s perspective, the loss of an animal affects animal welfare and has a significant impact on sustainability. Sustainability is impacted by the loss of food or nutrients intended for humans, loss of inputs used to create and grow the animal and the impact on the producer due to the loss of revenue from sale of the animal.

“Sustainability encompasses the people, the animal and the environment,” said Baysinger. “As the global population grows, we’re going to have to increase sustainability and do so to minimize our impact on the environment on that usage. Animal health is a key determinant of sustainability. A sick animal reduces performance, takes more resources and has an overall effect on welfare.”

Baysinger began with a background on the Five Freedoms, a concept that came from the Farm Animal Welfare Council in 1992. “We realized we have a responsibility to work toward these [goals], but they’re aspirational,” said Baysinger. “There’s freedom from pain, injury and disease, but all life ends in death. The freedom from death is not something we can provide any organism. However, we kill most of the animals raised for human food. Even though we cannot guarantee freedom from death for any animal, the manner of the animal’s death is a concern.”

Welfare inputs are evaluated through audits or as the producer observes animals during routine care. Welfare inputs are defined as the resources available to an animal. They fall into three categories: management or stockperson resources (which can be caretaker training and time the caretaker spends caring for animals); environmental resources (including housing, food and the use of health products such as vaccines or dewormers); and animal resources (the animals’ genetic makeup, their life experiences, disease resistance and other physiological aspects).

“Those welfare inputs can be measured, and that’s what we look at in an audit, but there’s more to it,” said Baysinger, “especially when we start looking at the stockperson and the environment and how the animal responds. We cannot know how the animal is experiencing his or her life, but there’s enough science and data that we can extrapolate that from animal behavior.” Welfare outputs include disease, behavior and psychological measures.

Although each area of animal welfare under the Five Freedoms can be assessed and scored via a welfare audit, Baysinger said it isn’t as simple as it sounds because all of the freedoms are not possible. In contrast, the Five Domains provide a contemporary, conceptual framework that aligns with current science and public perception. “We have to make sure the consumer … understands what we’re doing and what we’re measuring,” said Baysinger. “The Five Domains framework gives them an understanding of how we measure welfare.”

The Five Domains are actionable in promoting the four domains of nutrition, physical environment, health and behavioral opportunities that impact animals’ life experiences. While admitting the concept sounds warm and fuzzy, Baysinger said these four concepts ultimately contribute to the fifth domain – the mental state of the animal, at that point in time, for that animal.

The Five Domains include nutrition, environment, health, behavior and mental state. “The first four domains focus on factors that give rise to specific negative or positive subjective experiences, which contribute to the animals’ mental state – the fifth domain,” said Baysinger.  “Environment, nutrition and health are all physiologic for survival. In contrast, the fourth domain, behavioral, focuses on the evidence of the animal consciously seeking a specific goal with the environment, with other animals or with humans. The fifth domain of ‘mental’ is impacted by behavioral response to environment, nutrition and health, resulting in a behavior ultimately affecting the mental aspect of the animal.”

Positive welfare is comprised of many positive affective states including play, grooming, eating and thermal comfort. All are measurable and are incorporated to capture the behavioral aspect of how animals respond or make choices within animal systems.

Shifting the perspective of the Five Freedoms to the Five Domains enhances the study of animal welfare and on-farm measures. Because consumers vote with their dollars, it’s important to make sure farmers have input in open discussions and continue to evaluate and promote science.

Baysinger has seen increased interest in the Five Domains concept, and noted that outcome-based measures for the first four domains equate to the fifth. Although the mental aspect is impossible to measure, it can be determined based on assessing the other four domains.

As for the general public’s concept of what sustainability includes, Baysinger said most consumers think sustainability refers to the environment, which means we have to make sure those same consumers understand that ag producers encompass many areas.

Regarding the role of the farmer in the welfare discussion, Baysinger said she’s had discussions about how people can apply science to improve welfare and farm viability. “If they don’t understand the science coming at them and consumers request info, how do they know what to talk about?” she said, adding that she acts as the bridge to bring the consumer closer to the farmer.

“It’s a continuum, always improving,” said Baysinger. “We have to learn from the science as it comes and be open to hearing consumers’ concerns and have discussions but not in a defensive way.”