Lambs suffer breathing problems in intensive rearing says EFSA

By Keith Nuthall

- Last updated on GMT

Respiratory disorders were more frequent in intensive management systems
Respiratory disorders were more frequent in intensive management systems

Related tags: Milk, Efsa

Respiratory disorders are a common welfare problem for lambs in intensive rearing systems, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has said, while ewes in extensive farming can often go hungry.

The conclusions follow a detailed welfare assessment by EFSA’s panel on animal health and welfare of sheep farmed for meat, wool and milk production in shepherding, intensive, semi-intensive, semi-extensive, extensive, very extensive and mixed management systems.

Regarding lambs, "there were few differences among management systems with thermal stress, pain due to management procedures, gastro-enteric disorders and neonatal disorders rated as main welfare consequences",​ said a report summary. However: "Respiratory disorders were more frequent in intensive management systems,"​ as indicated by breathing problems and nasal discharges.

The causes of such problems included: poor air quality (caused by ventilation, stocking density, and ammonia levels for instance); increased exposure to pathogens, (through poor hygiene and the development of resistant pathogen strains); and weakened immune systems (because of inadequate colostrum, vaccination and anti-parasitics, for example).

As for ewes, the most important welfare problems in all management systems were thermal stress, lameness and mastitis. "Prolonged hunger was rated to be more frequent in extensive and very extensive management systems,"​ said the report​. The reason for this was generally poor pasture quality and a lack of available supplementary feed, it added. Such problems can be spotted by tooth loss, as well as poor body condition, said the report.

Its experts looked to identify signs telling stock handlers when their livestock was suffering, from whatever cause. For ewes, it suggested assessments of body condition, locomotion, clinical assessments of injuries, breech soiling, mucosal colour, udder consistency, evidence of painful husbandry procedures (tail docking, ear damage and mulesing, for example) and qualitative behavioural assessments.

"Among these, the ones that can be used for assessing the identified main welfare consequences are: body condition score, locomotion score, udder consistency and somatic cell count in milk,"​ said the report. It also called for further scientific evaluation of other welfare problem signs for ewes – for instance, coat cleanliness, panting, respiration rate, skin conditions, fleece quality, nasal discharge and social isolation.

As for welfare assessments of lambs, the report recommended that handlers look for shivering, poor locomotion, clinical assessment of injuries, breach soiling and evidence of painful husbandry procedures. As for lamb welfare problem indicators requiring more study, it highlighted body condition, coat cleanliness, panting, skin conditions, nasal discharge, mucosal colour, qualitative behavioural assessment, respiration quality, and gut fill.

Related topics: Livestock, EU, Industry & Markets, Lamb

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