Waitrose and Scotland’ Rural College (SRUC) swooped one of the top prizes at last night’s BBC’s Food & Farming Awards (November 24).

The pair collaborated on a ground-breaking new mobile application that will help Waitrose farmers assess and begin to understand the emotional wellbeing of its farm animals.

The first of its kind, the app aims to manage and improve opportunities that animals have to experience a good and enriching life – a process that we hope will lead to further improvements to animal welfare standards across the UK.

Developed by leading animal behavioural scientists at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) we have licensed the app for trial and development over the next two years. Specifically, the application has been designed to help our welfare assessors better understand, recognise and record emotionally expressive behaviour that – in part – contribute to an animal’s quality of life.

Although the app itself is designed to be practical and easy to use on farm, it is underpinned by rigorous scientific research, which its creator, Professor Francoise Wemelsfelder, calls “Qualitative Behavioural Assessment” (QBA).

The method allows animal welfare inspectors to record different expressive qualities of behaviour through the app, such as being relaxed, tense, playful or anxious – behaviours that are indicative of an animal’s emotional body language and possible signs of their general well-being.

This will help field teams assessing Waitrose farms develop their skills and help them describe and quantify the different expressions they observe when looking at their animals. In turn, this will help them better understand the mood the animals are experiencing while interacting with each other and their environment.

Professor Francoise Wemelsfelder from SRUC comments: “Animals have feelings just like humans – they can get stressed or feel joyful. Also like human beings, they are sometimes incredibly difficult to read and it’s only through a process of observation and learning that we can better understand them.

“This app and the scientific method behind it is therefore about getting to know how different animals, and different animal species, express their feelings so that we can not only understand them better, but also care for them better. Farmers and stock people who work with animals every day will have already acquired a lot of this understanding over the years, and our app wants to support and build on this.

“By paying attention to, caring for, and assessing an animal’s emotional state in addition to their physical state of health, we will now be able to continue working together on providing animals on Waitrose farms with opportunities to experience a good life.”

On winning at the BBC Food & Farming Awards:

Jake Pickering, Senior Agriculture Manager at Waitrose, said: “We are delighted to be recognised for this groundbreaking piece of work. This is the first time that an app has been specifically created to assess the emotional wellbeing of farm animals and it will create a step change across the UK farming sector that we hope will broaden our understanding of animal welfare to potentially boost their overall quality of life.”

Professor Francoise Wemelsfelder from SRUC, added: “It was wonderful to be invited to collaborate with Waitrose on the Good Life initiative and see our research rolled out on their supply chain farms in support of the high standards of animal welfare these farms maintain. For the project to be nominated for this award was a real honour but to win it is fantastic recognition for all the work put in by Waitrose supply farms and field staff, and for everyone who has helped to develop the app.”

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