Dwyer, C. M. , Lawrence, A. B. 2008. Introduction to Animal Welfare and the Sheep. In: The Welfare of Sheep. Animal Welfare, volume 6. Dwyer, C. M. (Ed.). Springer: Dordrecht, 1-40.
Concerns for the lives of animals have been voiced for centuries, with concerns about the welfare of agricultural animals increasing since the 1960s. Animal welfare concerns arise for many reasons: care about the quality of lives of animals, concerns about human health, product quality, the environment, and trade and marketing issues. Some of these concerns, therefore, include animal welfare as part of a package of issues involving ‘green’ or ethical living, whereas others may arise through direct impacts on animal welfare as a consequence of, for example, trade issues. A consensus on the definition of welfare has not been reached, however definitions have been proposed based on (i) the ability of the animal to perform natural behaviour, (ii) the animals’ subjective experiences, or (iii) the biological functioning of the animal. Integrated hypotheses suggest that all are important but that different concerns may arise depending on the interaction of the animal with the environment. For example, use of ethological knowledge gained from the existing species of wild sheep can help to determine how far genetic selection of domestic sheep has altered their behaviour from that of the wild progenitors. Investigation of how different the modern farming environment is from that in which sheep first evolved will help determine where mismatches exist and where suffering might be expected to occur. Animal welfare concerns have tended to focus on those animals that are kept in confinement agriculture (e.g. pigs and poultry). Extensively managed species have received less attention, often as these animals are perceived to be free to engage in natural behaviour, because farming is considered more traditional or because the ruminant is considered to be ‘tough’. However, welfare concerns do occur in sheep systems, for example, arising from the lack of inspection in extensive systems, surgical procedures, or management practices.