Validating indicators of sheep welfare through a consensus of expert opinion

Animal. 2011 May;5(6):943-52. doi: 10.1017/S1751731110002594.

Abstract

A consensus of expert opinion was used to provide both face and consensual validity to a list of potential indicators of sheep welfare. This approach was used as a first step in the identification of valid welfare indicators for sheep. The consensus methodology of the National Institute of Health, using pre-meeting consultation and focus group discussions, was used to ascertain the consensus opinion of a panel of sheep welfare experts. The Farm Animal Welfare Council's five freedoms were used as a framework to organise a list of current on-farm welfare issues for sheep. The five freedoms were also the welfare criterion used to identify potential on-farm welfare indicators for sheep. As a result, experts identified 193 welfare issues for sheep and lambs managed on farms across England and Wales. Subsequently, a combination of animal- (n = 26), resource- (n = 13) and management- (n = 22) based indicators was suggested for (i) adult rams, (ii) adult ewes (male and female sheep, over 1 year old), (iii) growing lambs (male and female sheep, over 6 weeks to 1 year old) and (iv) young lambs (male and female lambs, 6 weeks old and under). The results from this study could therefore be used to inform the further development of valid methods of assessing the on-farm welfare of sheep.