An online survey was designed to form the basis of a framework for the welfare assessment of extensively managed sheep in Australia. The survey focused on welfare compromise and useful welfare indicators. A total of 952 people completed the survey in its entirety, representing four stakeholder groups: Public (53.6%), Producer (27.4%), Scientist (9.9%), and Service provider (9.1%). Animal welfare was considered to be important by all participating groups in this survey (average score of 3.78/4). Respondents felt the welfare of grazing sheep was generally adequate but improvement was desired (2.98/5), with female members of the public rating sheep welfare significantly worse than other respondents (p < 0.05). Environmental issues were considered to pose the greatest risk to welfare (3.87/5), followed by heat stress (3.79), lameness (3.57) and husbandry practices (3.37). Key indicators recognised by all respondents were those associated with pain and fear (3.98/5), nutrition (4.23), mortality/management (4.27), food on offer (4.41) and number of illness/injures in a flock (4.33). There were gender and stakeholder differences in the perceived importance of both welfare issues and indicators with women and the public consistently rating issues (all p < 0.01) and indicators (all p < 0.05) to be of greater significance than other respondents. These results highlight the importance of including all stakeholders and an even balance of genders when developing a welfare framework that can address both practical and societal concerns.
Keywords: animal welfare; attitudes; gender; general public; producers; survey; welfare indicators; welfare issues.