- QBA is a suitable tool to identify the emotional state of donkeys on-farm.
- A fixed list of descriptors was used consistently by different trained assessors.
- It is important to invest time in training assessors.
- QBA seems particularly useful in evaluating positive aspects of the life of donkeys.
One of the objectives of the Animal Welfare Indicators project was to develop animal-based indicators to assess donkey welfare, including their emotional state. This study aimed to develop a fixed rating scale of Qualitative Behaviour Assessment (QBA) for donkeys, to evaluate the inter-observer reliability when applied on-farm, and to assess whether the QBA outcomes correlate to other welfare measures.
A fixed list of 16 descriptors was designed on the basis of a consultation in a focus group. The fixed list was then used by four trained observers to score nine 2 min videos of groups of donkeys owned by six farms and on-farm to score 11 donkey facilities representative of the most common type of donkey facilities in Western Europe. On each farm one experienced assessor collected different welfare measures on all the adult donkeys. The QBA scores and welfare measures were analysed using Principal Component Analysis (PCA, correlation matrix, no rotation). Kendall's W and ANOVA were used to assess inter-observer reliability. PCA revealed three main components explaining 79% of total variation between them. PC1 ranged from at ease/relaxed to aggressive/uncomfortable, suggesting that this Component is important in the description of the valence of donkeys’ affective states. PC2 was more related to the level of arousal of donkeys, ranging from apathetic to distressed/responsive. The four assessors showed a good level of agreement on the first two dimensions of the PCA (Kendall's W varying from 0.61 to 0.90), and there was no significant effect of observer on donkey QBA scores (ANOVA p > 0.05), both for the videos and on-farm. PCA of all measures together showed positive QBA descriptors on PC1 (relaxed, at ease, happy, friendly) to be associated with positive human–donkey interaction indicators (absence of tail tuck, no avoidance, and positive reaction to an assessor walking down the side of the donkey).
Our findings suggest that QBA is a suitable tool to identify the emotional state of donkeys on-farm. A fixed list of descriptors can be used consistently by different trained assessors as a valid addition to a number of animal welfare assessment indicators.
- Qualitative Behaviour Assessment;
- Welfare assessment
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