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Inter-observer reliability of animal-based welfare indicators included in the Animal Welfare Indicators welfare assessment protocol for dairy goats

  • A. Vieira (a1), M. Battini (a2), E. Can (a3) (a4), S. Mattiello (a2) and G. Stilwell (a3)...

Abstract

This study was conducted within the context of the Animal Welfare Indicators (AWIN) project and the underlying scientific motivation for the development of the study was the scarcity of data regarding inter-observer reliability (IOR) of welfare indicators, particularly given the importance of reliability as a further step for developing on-farm welfare assessment protocols. The objective of this study is therefore to evaluate IOR of animal-based indicators (at group and individual-level) of the AWIN welfare assessment protocol (prototype) for dairy goats. In the design of the study, two pairs of observers, one in Portugal and another in Italy, visited 10 farms each and applied the AWIN prototype protocol. Farms in both countries were visited between January and March 2014, and all the observers received the same training before the farm visits were initiated. Data collected during farm visits, and analysed in this study, include group-level and individual-level observations. The results of our study allow us to conclude that most of the group-level indicators presented the highest IOR level (‘substantial’, 0.85 to 0.99) in both field studies, pointing to a usable set of animal-based welfare indicators that were therefore included in the first level of the final AWIN welfare assessment protocol for dairy goats. Inter-observer reliability of individual-level indicators was lower, but the majority of them still reached ‘fair to good’ (0.41 to 0.75) and ‘excellent’ (0.76 to 1) levels. In the paper we explore reasons for the differences found in IOR between the group and individual-level indicators, including how the number of individual-level indicators to be assessed on each animal and the restraining method may have affected the results. Furthermore, we discuss the differences found in the IOR of individual-level indicators in both countries: the Portuguese pair of observers reached a higher level of IOR, when compared with the Italian observers. We argue how the reasons behind these differences may stem from the restraining method applied, or the different background and experience of the observers. Finally, the discussion of the results emphasizes the importance of considering that reliability is not an absolute attribute of an indicator, but derives from an interaction between the indicators, the observers and the situation in which the assessment is taking place. This highlights the importance of further considering the indicators’ reliability while developing welfare assessment protocols.

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