Animal Behavior and Well-Being Symposium I: Precision Technology and Animal Welfare
Historically, technological advancements in beef production have centered on genetic selection, dietary modifications, veterinary products, and feeding strategies to optimize the rumen environment and to maximize cattle health and efficiency. While these efforts have yielded substantial welfare gains, there remains a need to develop integrative technologies that evaluate the relationships among individual animal movement, group dynamics, individual health, and overall productivity. Large scale adoption of precision agriculture is gaining momentum and presents an opportunity to objectively quantify individual animal behavior at the resolution needed and context required to evaluate welfare at the speed of commerce. Behavior monitoring, individual movement patterns and space use, multi-animal network analyses, resource monitoring systems, and algorithm refinements are needed to accelerate our ability to monitor individual animals in group settings – a critical characteristic of evaluating welfare. The combination of the data from these multiple systems and can provide valuable information to the producer regarding the 24-hour cycle of feeding patterns, rumination behavior, activity levels, water consumption, and space use. This approach would establish behavioral expectations and identify deviations from the norm. Each of these technologies contribute different, yet important, pieces of information regarding the holistic evaluation of cattle welfare. While the marketplace is competitive, synthesis of the information (e.g., feeding behavior, water intake, rumination and activity) from these different behavior monitoring systems may result in a type of “knowledge hybrid vigor” regarding our ability to evaluate animal welfare. This approach may provide producers a comprehensive evaluation of each animal – as an individual and within the group context. In the beef industry, technology-based welfare evaluation systems must be sector-specific in design (e.g., cow-calf pairing, stocker grazing behavior, rumen monitoring in feedlots). This type of welfare assessment approach requires individual animal identification; therefore, ubiquitous adoption of individual animal identification is necessary for maximizing cattle welfare.