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App-y animals: Farmers use smartphones to keep track of livestock emotions

Jamie Harris, PA Science Technology Reporter
·2-min read

Farmers are turning to technology to keep track of their livestock’s emotional state in a bid to improve animal welfare standards.

An app is being trialed which allows people to log emotionally expressive behaviour exhibited by dairy cows, veal calves, pigs, laying hens, broiler chickens and ducks.

The aim is to ensure animals enjoy a good and enriching life.

Farmers and field staff are presented with a list of about 20 key descriptive terms tailored to each species, which are a mix of positive and negative emotions.

A sliding scale will be provided to decide how strongly a statement applies.

The data is then sent off and integrated into a larger pattern to be matched against other farms.

App allows farmers to keep track of their livestock's emotional state
App allows farmers to keep track of their livestock’s emotional state (Waitrose/PA)

“Good physical health is vital for good welfare but there is clear consensus among the scientific animal welfare community that factors such as enjoyment, contentment and positive excitement play an equally vital role in ensuring that an animal has a good life,” said Professor Francoise Wemelsfelder, from Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), who created the app.

“QBA (Qualitative Behavioural Assessment) not only provides a way to assess these factors, it also opens up the conversation about what positive emotional wellbeing for an animal truly looks like.

“Because we believe fundamentally that animals are not simply production systems to be managed.

“They are sentient creatures that must be cared for.”

Supermarket Waitrose has licensed the app for trial and development for two years, and will begin rolling it out across 1,800 of the farms it uses from next week.

James Bailey, executive director at Waitrose, said: “This is a huge development for the industry as it is the first time any retailer has explored welfare measures based on the concept of an animal’s freedom to express positive emotions.

“In some countries, farm animals continue to be looked upon as food production systems that need to be managed.

“This is wrong and for the UK to continue its position as a leader in farming standards, it’s critical that we recognise farm animals as sentient creatures capable of experiencing a range of emotions and positive experiences.

“By acknowledging this, working hard to understand what those positive emotional expressions are and how they can be unlocked, we can lead the industry into a new and more confident era of farm animal welfare.”