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29 January 2024

The Science Behind Livestock Pain: How It Affects Health and Productivity

Addressing livestock pain is not only a matter of ethical responsibility but also an essential component of ensuring optimal productivity in agricultural operations.

In the realm of modern agriculture, ensuring the welfare of livestock is of paramount importance. One crucial aspect that demands our attention is pain management in animals. In this article, we delve into the science behind livestock pain, its impact on animal health, and the subsequent effect on productivity.

Understanding Livestock Pain

Animals, like humans, are susceptible to pain caused by various factors, including injuries, surgical procedures, or medical treatments. Pain in livestock can be classified into acute and chronic pain. Acute pain is short-term and usually results from immediate injuries or surgical procedures, while chronic pain persists over an extended period.

While animals cannot vocalize their pain in the same way humans do, they exhibit certain behavioural and physiological signs. These may include altered body posture, reduced appetite, increased heart rate, changes in vocalization patterns, and avoidance of movement or interaction with other animals.

The Toll on Animal Health

Pain has far-reaching implications for the overall health and well-being of livestock. When animals experience pain, stress responses are triggered, leading to the release of stress hormones like cortisol. Prolonged exposure to high cortisol levels can compromise the immune system, making animals more susceptible to infections and diseases.

Additionally, animals in pain often exhibit reduced feed intake, which can result in inadequate nutrition and weight loss. This can be especially concerning for pregnant or lactating animals, as it may affect the health of both the mother and her offspring.

Furthermore, pain can impact the healing process of injuries or surgical wounds. Animals may instinctively lick or bite at the affected area, hindering the recovery and leading to potential complications.

The Link Between Pain and Productivity

The relationship between pain and productivity in livestock is undeniably intertwined. Animals that are in pain are less likely to engage in natural behaviours such as grazing, foraging, or social interaction. This can lead to decreased physical activity and muscle wasting, ultimately affecting their productivity.

Some studies in farm animals have identified potential gains in animal production when pain management is administered including improved average daily weight gain and for dairy cows, for example, pain can result in reduced milk production. Painful hoof conditions, such as hoof lesions, can cause cows to spend less time on their feet, leading to decreased milk output. In the case of meat-producing animals, such as cattle, pain may lead to reduced weight gain and slower growth rates.

Moreover, pain can induce stress-related behaviours, including aggression or restlessness, in animals. Such behaviours can disrupt group dynamics and create an unhealthy environment in livestock facilities, potentially leading to further complications and decreased productivity.

The Role of Pain Relief in Livestock Pain Management

Addressing livestock pain is not only a matter of ethical responsibility but also an essential component of ensuring optimal productivity in agricultural operations.

The science behind livestock pain highlights its profound impact on animal health and productivity. Pain management in animals should be a top priority for livestock producers and veterinarians alike offering tangible solutions to alleviate pain, reduce stress, and promote better overall well-being in livestock. By prioritizing pain management, we can ensure the humane treatment of animals and foster a more sustainable and efficient agricultural industry.

At Better Choices, our commitment is to support the entire industry throughout this journey. To actively participate, we invite you to become an industry member by joining today and demonstrating your support. For potential organisational partnership opportunities, please explore the Industry section on our website. Let's collaborate to pave the way for a sustainable future in our industry.


Pain Management in Farm Animals: Focus on Cattle, Sheep and Pigs -

Effect of analgesia and anti-inflammatory treatment on weight gain and milk intake of dairy calves after disbudding -