Effect of postweaning handling strategies on welfare and productive traits in lambs

Pascual-Alonso et al. - Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science

Type: Research Paper
Knowledge level: Advanced

Farm Table says:

Research from Spain finds that lambs weaned in the daily presence of a female were less reactive and better able to modulate their stress in the post-weaning period!

What is the problem?

Post-weaning management strategies have been shown to reduce weaning stress and improve welfare and productive performance. This research from Spain analyzed the effect of post-weaning handling strategies on welfare and production traits in lambs.

What did the research involve?

After weaning, 36 lambs (Charmarita breed native to Spain) were assigned to 3 experimental groups with 12 lambs each:

  1. control [C]
  2. fattening with gentle human female contact [H]
  3. fattening with 2 adult ewes [E].

The average daily gain (ADG) was estimated and blood samples were taken, and infrared thermography was used to estimate stress variables.

The study took place in Spain in an area characterized by a dry Mediterranean climate, with an average annual temperature of 15 degrees Celsius and an average annual rainfall of 317mm.

What were the key findings?

There were significant differences among treatments (in favor of alternative strategies) regarding production and stress variables.

  • The results suggest that the lambs handled gently during the fattening were less reactive and better able to modulate their physiological stress.
  • The E group adapted better to acute stress than the C group but was less efficient in modulating chronic stress.
  • Both treatments showed higher slaughter live weights and better ADGs compared with the control.
  • The use of social enrichment at weaning, especially to establish a positive human-nonhuman animal bond, alleviates lamb weaning stress and improves welfare and performance.

This study demonstrated that lambs handled gently and raised with daily contact with a female human during the fattening phase are less reactive and better able to modulate their physiological stress during the post weaning period, thereby improving lamb health and weight. The study also confirms the importance of the need for positive attitudes in stock persons, who could be taught and included in training programs to increase animal welfare.

Using a ewe-nurse strategy also helps the lambs adapt better to the fattening phase but its effect was less evident. Both strategies improved the productive performance and farmer income, compared with control lambs.

Final Comment

Overall, there were significant differences among treatments regarding production traits and physiological stress variables.

In summary, providing social enrichment at weaning, especially involving a positive human-animal bond is a good strategy to alleviate post weaning stress and its undesirable effects on welfare and productive performance.

2015 - Spain - Pascual-Alonso et al. - Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science
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