Study aims to stem farm-animal pain
By Kristina Bergen
Anyone who has a house pet neutered expects a vet to provide the animal with painkillers before making the first cut, but farm animals aren’t so lucky.
Young cows and pigs are regularly castrated, branded, de-horned, vaccinated, and have their tails and teeth clipped without anything to control the pain, making them hard to handle and increasing the risk of injury to both animal and handler.
“Common farming practices cause animals acute and chronic pain, but this is not due to a lack of awareness or empathy on the part of farmers,” says U of S large animal expert Joe Stookey. “Using pain-control methods on farm animals is not easy and has never been user-friendly, so it is often viewed as unrealistic in terms of cost and labour.”
Armed with a recent five-year grant of $147,915 from NSERC (the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council), Stookey leads a team that plans to develop inexpensive, easy-to-use on-farm strategies for animal pain relief.
“We hope to get a better understanding of the perception of pain in animals and make the process of controlling pain as easy and affordable as possible to producers,” he says, noting that the psychological distress many animals experience during interactions with humans can set back their growth for up to 106 days.
The two-pronged study will examine the best way to deliver painkillers to piglets before they undergo any procedure and will try to find the least painful way to de-horn calves.
Within 24 hours of being born, piglets can experience tooth clipping, castration, tail docking and vaccination.
“It is quite clear from a piglet’s reaction that these routine procedures are painful,” says Stookey. But when a single litter can consist of 15 piglets, giving pain-killers to each animal can be cumbersome.
Stookey’s team is exploring the possibility of administering a single injection to a sow that will transfer pain killers through her milk to piglets just hours after they are born.