Tuesday, 26 January 2016

A welfare assessment scoring system for working equids—A method for identifying at risk populations and for monitoring progress of welfare enhancement strategies (trialed in Egypt)


Working equids are important for completing many fundamental tasks in Egypt.
Due to a lack of resources, many working equids suffer from poor welfare.
Over 5000 working equids were assessed with a comprehensive welfare assessing tool.
Equids who pulled goods by cart or worked in the kilns were at highest risk.
This assessment tool can monitor the efficacy of welfare enhancing strategies.


There are an estimated 112 million horses, donkeys and mules (i.e., working equids) in developing regions of the world. Though their roles are often fundamental to the well-being of the families they work for, their welfare is often severely compromised due to the limited resources and/or limited knowledge base of owners. The main objective of this study was to develop a multifactorial welfare assessment score for accurate, comprehensive, quick and reliable assessment of these equids. A total of 5248 working equids (n = 2198 horses, 2640 donkeys, 410 mules) were assessed between February 2012–January 2014. Equids were divided into categories based on the three species involved, as well as the four work types involved (transporting goods or people by cart, ridden (e.g., in tourist locations), or working in brick kilns). Analysis of variance “ANOVA” was used to compare differences between groups with α set at 0.05. In terms of behavioral measures, the most at-risk equids appeared to be horses who pulled goods by cart with 20.7% showing a depressed attitude and 22.6% being unresponsive to an observer’s approach (significantly greater than the other species and the other work types, P < 0.05). Mules who pulled goods by cart showed 30.8% avoiding an observer's approach, 42.7% avoiding chin contact and 14.2% showing an aggressive response to observer (significantly greater than the other species and the other work types, P < 0.05). In terms of physical measures, 21.6% of donkeys who pulled goods by cart had harness-induced lesions and 21.9% showed evidence of firing-type lesions (significantly greater than the other species and other work types, P < 0.05). Mules who pulled goods by cart had the highest prevalence of mistreatment-induced lesions at 36.7% (significantly greater than the other species and other work types, P < 0.05). From a positive perspective, horses used for riding or transporting people by cart (e.g., most often animals working in tourist areas) were most likely to be in a healthy physical state (over 85% for both categories; significantly greater than other species and other work types, P < 0.05). To conclude, this welfare assessment scoring system met our initial objective of being a useful tool in identifying which equids had the most significant welfare problems (i.e., which species, work type, age and sex). This, in turn will help in selecting appropriate interventions, and in targeting interventions toward the most vulnerable equids.


  • Working equids;
  • Welfare assessment;
  • Equine behavior;
  • Equine welfare
Corresponding author at: Department of Animal Science, Michigan State University, 474 S. Shaw Lane 1250 Anthony Hall East Lansing MI 48824, United States.