Assessing Welfare

Why do we assess welfare?

Identify the nature of welfare issues in equine populations

There is often variation in welfare status between working equine contexts. Identifying welfare strengths and weaknesses in a given population can inform decision-making as to which intervention activities, staff skills and resources will be most appropriate to improve welfare. 

Identify the prevalence of different welfare issues in equine populations

Using standardised indicators and assessors enables all animals to be assessed on a comparable basis. Data can be analysed cumulatively and prevalence of each welfare issue calculated at a group level.  This supports evidence-based welfare issue prioritisation.

Compare welfare status between different locations or animal groups

Using standardised indicators and assessors enables comparisons and bench-marking between different locations. Relative welfare strengths and weaknesses at different locations can be ascertained, enabling intervention activities to be tailored accordingly.  This can also direct research into risk factors for poor welfare and identification of positive welfare practices.

Working horses
These mules in a Nepali brick kiln will have different welfare needs to equids in other contexts. Animal welfare indicators provide a means of measuring these differences.
"Welfare assessment often guides us to important research questions."

Ruth Jobling, Research Coordinator, Brooke UK

Identify groups of animals in greatest need

Collecting descriptive information (e.g. work type, sex, species, age) in addition to welfare measures allows data to be analysed according to these variables and potential risk factors to be extracted. Identification of high risk animal groups allows intervention activities to be targeted towards those in greatest need.

Identify seasonal variation in welfare issues

Measuring at different times of year enables identification of welfare variation due to climatic or work season. Intervention activities can be tailored according to animals’ seasonal needs.

Provide a welfare baseline for intervention or research activities

Using standardised indicators and assessors enables comparable data between different points in time. Data can be collected at an early stage to provide an indication of initial welfare status before any intervention or research activity commences.

Provide a way of monitoring welfare impact of intervention activities or changes in management practices

Animals can be re-assessed at various stages throughout a project or research study and compared with baseline data to identify:
a) whether desired positive welfare changes have been achieved and to what extent
b) unintended negative consequences of project activities
c) unexpected positive consequences of project activities
d) progress towards achieving targets. 

Generate welfare targets or exit criteria

Standardised indicators can provide performance targets for welfare improvement projects, and criteria for making evidence-based decisions about when to discontinue a project or research study.

Monitoring welfare changes over time helps assess the impact of activities to improve conditions for the animals at this marketplace in Ethiopia.
After assessing the animals, it can also be useful to collect additional information from owners/users to triangulate with animal-based data.

Assess sustainability of welfare improvement activities

Welfare can be periodically re-assessed to monitor the extent to which welfare changes have been sustained after a project or research study finishes. This helps inform whether threshold exit criteria were appropriate, and gauge sustainability of welfare impacts.

Triangulate with information from other sources

Welfare indicators can be consolidated and compared with information from other sources (e.g. environmental or owner-related factors) to obtain a broader picture of the relationship between interconnected factors and their implications for welfare.