The Key to Animal Welfare Walks on Two Legs

Jul 12, 2021

By Michelle Calvo-Lorenzo, Elanco’s Chief Animal Welfare Officer
One of the greatest disruptors in livestock innovation is one of the oldest tools we have – manpower. A growing body of research reinforces that to continuously improve animal welfare, you must first focus on people.

As the Chief Animal Welfare Officer for Elanco Animal Health, I spend my days (and nights) thinking, studying, observing, and talking about animal behavior and their overall well-being. Farmers and ranchers do the same thing – they worry about the weather during winter calving, they make sure that the conditions are perfect inside their chicken barns, and they spend countless hours working with nutrition and veterinary experts to ensure their animals have a high quality of life. The more I work with livestock caretakers, the more I realize that there is a great opportunity to enhance animal welfare (and sustainable farming) when producers are able to focus on the “people welfare” aspect of farming.
It takes an incredible team, made up of dedicated staff, to run any type of organization. Caring for animals is no different. The team works countless hours to ensure everything works right, and while innovation has certainly helped to make the work on a ranch more efficient, manual labor is still required. Why? Farm animals are complex, sentient beings that require special care and attention from highly skilled experts to meet both the physiological and mental needs (and wants) of animals. Technology alone cannot do this, and producers have spent time, arguably all of their time, attending to and thinking about their animals. While scientists and veterinarians have done a tremendous job over the years in creating numerous tools and metrics to help livestock caretakers know what their animals need and want, the unintentional consequences of focusing solely on our animals has resulted in a lack of understanding the needs and wants of the caretakers. This has resulted in high employee turnover rates in farming and ranching, making it one of the most critical issues in livestock production today. While a serious threat to farming, is it also a golden opportunity for all producers to look at their operations through a different perspective. From ergonomics to trainings that incorporate cultural differences, the importance of having a happy and engaged team is just as invaluable as having animals that are stress-free and healthy.
We can’t produce meat, milk, and eggs without the qualified and highly skilled people needed to appropriately and ethically care for animals. On average, it is reported that 22 percent of staff turnover occurs within the first 45 days of starting a job1. With statistics like this, it’s imperative that the livestock industry invest in their workforce as they do their animals.
And it doesn’t have to be “big.” From helping to bridge the gap between leadership and staff, to trainings that account for cultural and language differences, these seemingly small initiatives are game changers to the producers and the people that work for them. For instance, when farm employees are explained to why best management practices work (not just the ‘how’ and ‘what’ relative to job responsibilities), they become more engaged and motivated team members; this is especially true for new hires. Employees have told me they feel valued and appreciated when managers provide incentives beyond salary, like appreciation meals, bonuses, breakrooms, comfortable work environments, opportunities to contribute to their community, or even a simple 6-pack of soda as a ‘thank you’ after a hot summer’s day of work. Moreover, when employees are presented with opportunities to grow as a professional on the farm, I’ve witnessed many workers seize those opportunities with pride and loyalty.
Research shows that a stable and highly motivated workforce is strongly associated with improved outcomes - like higher retention rates - across all industries. Improvements are also seen in productivity, job satisfaction, employee engagement, and contentment of workers. When it comes to animal welfare, all these improved outcomes are critical, because when workers feel safe, supported, empowered, and confident, the human-animal interactions that occur all day on a farm are also positive and profound.
No matter what industry you are a part of, it’s always about the people. For those of us who work in an industry that is centered on its animals, we have to remember that it’s not just about our four-legged friends; the bigger picture must include our two-legged teammates also.
For more content like this, check out the latest issue of the Cooperator.

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