Almost everybody is familiar with the five freedoms which serve as a conceptual framework for many animal welfare programs. They were originally developed in England by the Farm Animal Welfare Committee (FAWC). They are:

  • Freedom from hunger, thirst or malnutrition
  • Freedom from thermal discomfort
  • Freedom from pain, injury and disease
  • Freedom to express normal behavior
  • Freedom from fear or distress

One of the problems with the Five Freedoms is that in the real world, it is impossible to be totally free of everything that is negative. For example, in the 1970s, I traveled on a horrible long flight to Australia where I sat in the smoking section in coach, middle seat on a 747. I was definitely not free from discomfort. Today the smoking section is gone and my frequent flyer program has enabled me to get a seat where it is easier to sleep during a long flight. Discomfort has greatly decreased but it was not totally eliminated. In reality, each one of the Five Freedoms is on a continuum instead of being either present or not present.

Many studies have shown that preventing suffering is not sufficient for good animal welfare. David Mellor, a scientist from Massey University in New Zealand, introduced the concept of The Five Domains. This conceptual framework has now been adopted by some major corporations. It appeals to them for two reasons. First, it recognizes that welfare problems are continuous ranging from excellent to poor. It also uses welfare categories that producers can easily relate to. It is an adaptation of the European Welfare Quality System that had four categories of: good feeding, good housing, good health and appropriate behavior.

Mellor added a fifth category of the “animal’s affective mental state.” The question that is being asked is: Does the animal have positive experiences and a life worth living? Welfare must go beyond preventing suffering. The Five Domains are nutrition, environment, health, behavior and affective state. This framework is easier to apply on a farm than in a meat plant. Producers can easily understand health and nutrition. Some examples of things that would be included in nutrition domain would be access to water and feeding practices that maintain the animal’s body condition and health. An example of a poor nutrition practice would be a lack of roughage in cattle feed, which results in a high percentage of animals having severe liver abscesses.

The “physical environment” domain would cover all of the places an animal lives. This would range from pastures to indoor buildings. Many transportation issues would also be under this domain. Some examples would be heat stress, cold stress and vibration during transport. Heat stress and cold stress issues on a feedlot or pasture would also be included. Today, a major area of concern is the need for shade in feedlots. Ammonia levels and other air quality issues inside buildings would also be covered. The environment domain would also apply to issues such as gestation stalls for sows and battery cages for hens. All the contentious housing would be within this domain.

The “health” domain includes both infectious disease, injuries and bruises. Lameness assessments would be under this domain. Other areas would be bruises, swollen hocks, and injuries from fighting. Indicators of infectious disease, such as lung lesions, parasites, coughing, nasal discharge and death loss are all included.

The fourth domain is “behavioral interactions.” For example, can the animal express normal behavior? One of the problems is determining what exactly normal behavior is. It is easy to assess abnormal behavior such as tail biting in pigs and stereotypic repetitive behavior. Some examples of abnormal behavior are tongue rolling in Jersey dairy cows and bar biting in sows. These behaviors can be reduced or prevented by providing environmental enrichments on the farm such as straw or items for pigs to chew or nest boxes for hens. Pigs have a strong natural instinct to chew and root in their environment and hens have an instinct to hide when they lay their eggs. The scientific research is really clear. On the farm, these highly motivated behaviors need to be accommodated.

The fifth domain is “affective mental state.” It can be either positive or negative. Research results have clearly shown that both negative and positive emotions can be measured. Painful procedures, such as castration or dehorning, would be in this category. A captive bolt stun that failed to induce instantaneous insensibility would also be in the fifth domain. Painful procedures, such as castration, have been extensively studied. Providing medication for pain relief will reduce the levels of stress hormones such as cortisol. Stresses resulting from handling practices, such as use of electric prods, are also in the fifth domain. Studies clearly show that shocks from electric prods and cattle vocalizations associated with excessive pressure from a restraint device are associated with increased levels of stress hormones. Squealing in pigs and electric prod use shortly before slaughter is associated with both poorer pork quality and more PSE. When pigs squeal or are poked with electric prods during the last five minutes before stunning, blood lactate levels are increased. High lactate is associated with a decrease in pork quality.

One easy-to-understand example of positive emotional state is cud chewing in cattle and sheep. If cattle, either on a farm or in a stockyard, are content and relaxed, they will chew their cuds. One of the best examples of the expression of positive emotions on the farm is the reactions of dairy cows when they use motorized grooming brushes. There are many videos online which show that cows love them. They will move around in many directions so that the brush can groom many areas of their body. As a scientist, I am not supposed to say that cows “love” something, but when you watch these videos, it is obvious that they do.

All the numerical scoring systems and animal-based outcome measures that are part of good welfare programs should be used when the Five Domains system is implemented. Handling measures would be under both affective states and the environment domains. Falling during handling that was caused by a slippery floor would be within the environment domain. The North American Meat Institute scoring system would be an important part of a program that uses the Five Domains. I am a big proponent of numerical scoring because it enables managers and employees to determine if handling and stunning practices are improving or becoming worse.

A question people may ask is how the Five Freedoms could be incorporated into the Five Domains. The first of the Five Freedoms would be covered under nutrition. Thermal discomfort can be placed in the environment domain. Freedom from injury and disease would be under health. The freedom to express normal behavior could be placed in the behavior domain. The fifth domain would include pain, fear and distress.