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Do Farm Animals Feel Pain?

Do Farm Animals Feel Pain?

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Daniel Stockdale. Originally submitted for Farm Animal Health and Welfare at Queen’s University Belfast, with lecturer Niamh O'Connell in the category of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Daniel Stockdale. Originally submitted for Farm Animal Health and Welfare at Queen’s University Belfast, with lecturer Niamh O'Connell in the category of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 29, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Do Farm Animals Feel Pain?
The ability to determine whether farm animals feel pain and the level of painfelt can be an important tool used when assessing the welfare of differentspecies of farm animals (Stubsjøen et al, 2009). Traditionally, pain in farmanimals has been overlooked due to the economic implications that assessingand treating farm animals would have had (Viñuela-Fernández et al, 2007).However, it is now of the general consensus that to ensure the good welfareof production animals, pain should be minimised at all opportunities (Bath,1998). As there is currently no accepted definition of pain in animals,(Viñuela-Fernández et al, 2007) a definition must be agreed upon. Onedefinition that has been used in scientific literature was originally proposed byMolony (1997) and describes pain as a sensory and emotional experiencewhich gives the animal an awareness of the damage or threat of damage tothe tissues of the body. As a result of this threat, the animal’s physiology andbehaviour are changed to reduce or avoid the damage. The change inphysiology and behaviour also has the effect of reducing the likelihood of thedamage occurring again and also helps to promote recovery from the damage(Molony, 1997). From this definition, it is possible to make the conclusion thatpain felt by animals is similar to that felt by humans, which is defined by theInternational Association for the Study of Pain as “
an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage” 
(Viñuela-Fernández et al, 2007). This issupported by Fitzpatrick et al (2006) who describe the process of feeling painsimilar in all mammals, through tissue inflammation, resulting in informationfrom the periphery of the body being transmitted along the spinal cord andinto the brain, where the pain is then perceived. Although pain perception in animals is closely linked to pain perception inhumans, the inability of animals to express their pain through language meansthat other methods to determine pain perception must be used (Viñuela-Fernández et al, 2007). These can range from observing behavioural changesto physiological change within the animal’s body, however, it cannot alwaysbe easy to determine between physical pain, stress and fear. This essay isgoing to focus on the levels of pain felt and the mechanisms used todetermine pain perception in different species of farm animals.
 According to Bath (1998), the measurement and evaluation of pain in farmanimals is ultimately subjective to the human assessing the animal. Althoughthis was most likely the case in 1998, since that time, there have been anumber of different techniques used and technological advances made thatcan now enable scientists to form more of an objective view of pain in farmanimals. It is now known that pain is caused in farm animals (sheep, cattle,
Do Farm Animals Feel Pain?Page 1
pigs and chickens) through the damage and inflammation of tissue, whichtriggers nerve endings and transmits signals along the spinal cord and into thebrain where pain is then perceived (Fitzpatrick et al, 2006). This is alsothought to be the case in other species of farm animal apart from the mainspecies, such as fish, that are thought to have similar pain-perceivingreceptors to that of higher invertebrates (Braithwaite et al, 2004). However,Fitzpatrick et al (2006) also suggest that pain may be influenced by the socialrank of the animal within its group of peers, the age and species of the animalin question and by past experiences. These may lead to the animaldeveloping a hypersensitivity to pain stimuli later in life, if it has beensubjected to a painful experience in early life (Johnson et al, 2005). Due tothe complex nature of pain and the ultimately subjective, emotionalexperience it is, (Viñuela-Fernández et al, 2007) a range of different methodsmust be used when assessing the occurrence and the level of pain in farmanimals.One of the most commonly used methods to asses pain in farm animals isobserving changes in behavioural patterns away from the normal (Viñuela-Fernández et al, 2007). Barnett, (2007) described the animals’ appearanceand behaviour away from the normal to be the first thing a ‘good’ farmer should recognise when making every-day assessments of the welfare and thepresence of pain in animals under their care. Since then, scientists haveassessed the changes in behaviour as a result of a treatment in a number of different species and ages of animals to determine the presence and level of pain as a result. One such study carried out by Boesch et al, (2008) lookedinto the Burdizzo clamp method of calf castration in very young calves (1-10days old). Although the study showed clearly that calves felt pain as a resultof the castration procedure through analysis of the plasma cortisol levels, itwas unable to detect clear pain-indicating behavioural changes in the youngcalves overall, although there were clear signs of pain-reducing behaviouralchanges in a number of individuals such as “
sternal recumbency with bothhind legs stretched out obliquely 
” (Boesch et al, 2008). This lack of clear behavioural changes in young calves is in contrast to studies performed byThüer et al (2007) which showed that in calves aged 3-4 weeks old, therewere clear behaviour changes as a result of pain caused by the Burdizzomethod of calf castration. This difference in the levels of behavioural changeat different ages could be down to two different reasons according to Boeschet al (2008). The first hypothesis is that the nervous system in young calvesis not fully developed compared to calves at 3-4 weeks of age, meaning thevery young calves do not feel the pain of the procedure, however this canalmost definitely be ruled out as other mammals such as humans and lambshave their nervous system fully developed by the time of birth and it is likelythat this is the case across other mammalian species (Boesch et al, 2008).The second hypothesis suggested was that there may be a natural tendencyto suppress outward signs (behavioural changes) of pain in very young,vulnerable animals, due to the natural evolution of species such as cattle,which naturally, in the wild, would be seen as a prey species. This theory isbacked up in a number of different studies and across other species such assheep, which would also have naturally been a prey species and so in theory
Do Farm Animals Feel Pain?Page 2
suppress outward signs of pain so that predators don’t see the weakness of the animal and target it as a result (Stubsjøen et al, 2009). Although this theory fits the results of different studies on different ages of calves in the Burdizzo castration procedure, to determine whether this isdefinitely the case, studies on other pain-causing treatments would have to becarried out. Although studies have been performed on the dehorning of calves as young as 4 weeks old, through heat cauterization, which showedclear behavioural changes in response to the treatment, (Morisse et al, 1995)and (Graf et al, 1999), it is impossible to repeat the study using calves in thefirst week of life, due to the absence of the horn buds, which don’t usuallyform until at least 2-3 weeks of age. For this reason, other farm animalspecies must be assessed to determine the validity of the hypothesis. Another farm animal species which naturally would be classed as a preyspecies is the chicken. Gentle et al (2004) found that certain ‘risk’ areas of the hen’s body, such as the beak, wattles and scaly skin contain nociceptorswhich detect damage to the tissue and send information along the centralnervous system (CNS) to the brain where pain is likely to be perceived, similar to other species of farm animal as already mentioned. During the study, itwas found that the hens showed “
 pain-indicating behaviours” 
(Gentle et al,2004) such as one-legged standing, which returned to normal after aninjection of a local anaesthesia was given. This strongly suggests the abilityof chickens to feel pain and was backed up by studies carried out by Cheng(2006) which looked into the changes in physiological and behaviouralparameters which indicate pain caused to laying hens as a result of beaktrimming, which is a common procedure which takes place in the poultryindustry. Cheng (2006) also suggested that when the beak trimmingprocedure was carried out on birds (both chickens and turkeys) of a youngage, (1-10 days) there was less evidence to suggest long lasting chronic painin the mutilated beak compared to birds which had undergone the procedureat 5 weeks of age. As the behavioural signs of pain are again reduced in theyounger animals of the species, similar to previously mentioned studies onsheep and cattle, it is possible that the same hypothesis which relates to pain-indicating behavioural signs being suppressed due to the natural vulnerabilityof the species could also be applied. However, Cheng (2006) states thetheory that although the young birds feel the pain to the same extent as theolder birds as a result of the treatment, the pain is felt for a much shorter duration of time due to the CNS of the bird not being fully matured. Thismeans that although the nervous system is present and transmits signals tothe brain, which are perceived as pain, it is much more capable of repairingitself and therefore not causing long-lasting chronic pain in the beak tip, to theyoung bird compared to birds of an older age (Cheng, 2006). This theorycould be used to explain the difference in pain-indicating behaviour in differentages of calf when castrated through the Burdizzo method, however may notbe applicable unless the CNS repaired itself rapidly after the procedure. Totest this theory further and explore the validity of the hypothesis, more in-depth studies, focussing purely on the nervous system of different ages of animals would have to be carried out.
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