Frequently Asked Questions

Why have an animal welfare assessment contest?

As welfare assurance schemes continue to evolve across North America and beyond, there is an increasing need for objective, skilled evaluators who are well trained in traditional animal sciences and welfare issues.

Today's animal science departments and veterinary colleges are relied upon to prepare their graduates to address such ever­evolving changes in the industry. The animal welfare assessment contest provides our future leaders with training to gather and evaluate information for addressing societal concerns in an unbiased way. It is essential for animal science students to be able to synthesize the results of animal welfare research to make critical evaluations of animal welfare conditions under widely differing scenarios.

Evidence for the effect of judging teams on attitudes toward a specific discipline has been established by Squires et al. (1991). The competitive venue facilitates motivation and information retention, while the process of integrating a wide range of information into one final decision and oral presentation mirrors the interdisciplinary skills needed for real life welfare assessment.

In 2002, faculty at Michigan State University developed an Animal Welfare Judging and Assessment Contest to provide a tool for positively affecting attitudes of students toward the welfare of agricultural and other animals. There is powerful potential in integrating welfare assessment into a competitive learning environment that has been part of the traditional animal science culture for decades.

How does the animal welfare assessment contest work?

Participants representing their respective universities compete as a team and/or individuals. In the first part of the contest, three species­-based classes are presented. Each class consists of two hypothetical scenarios representing animals in typical situations. Scenarios may include physiological data, video clips, still photos, behavioral responses, husbandry and housing information, and time budgets. After viewing each class, students are asked to rank the scenarios. They are then provided time to prepare more detailed analyses in order to give a brief oral presentation to a panel of judges defending why one scenario demonstrates a higher level of welfare than another. Students are allowed to use whatever resources they have available in their preparation period; however, having too many materials to review can take up valuable preparation time. Students are allowed to take a single one­sided 3" x 5" index card with them to refer to while presenting oral reasons. Three judges, generally highly esteemed scientists with expertise on the welfare of the species in question, view each student’s presentation and awards are presented to the three top scoring individuals and the highest scoring team. Knowledge of welfare science and the art of persuasion in the presentation are key factors used in scoring.

Who can participate in the contest?

Any university or veterinary college may assemble a team for competition. It is not necessary that the students be animal science majors or specializing in food animal medicine, although background knowledge of the species in question is needed in order to make educated assessments. This knowledge can be gained through life experiences and from the university curriculum; however, it is also important that the team meet regularly to practice presenting oral reasons and share and acquire knowledge pertinent to both general welfare issues and the specific species being evaluated.

Can veterinarians participate?

A limited number of AVMA members have the opportunity to take part in the event as non-competitive participants. For details and to apply, see Enter the Contest.

How does our university start a team for the contest?

It is important to involve motivated students as the exercise requires students who have critical thinking skills, are able to readily express thoughtful interpretations, and can develop original ideas. Time commitment is also essential. As the contest draws nearer, the team may want to commit more time to practicing and perfecting oral presentation skills.

The first priority should be establishing a practice schedule that works well for both the coach and team members. Meeting weekly has worked well for some teams.

In the beginning, it will be beneficial to provide general literature on animal welfare science to study, after which time the team can move on to studying each relevant species for the contest. A good resource is the guide for the Care and Use of Agricultural Animals in Agricultural Research and Teaching (Federation of Animal Science Societies, 1999).

After learning from these materials, teams should practice evaluating sample scenarios and become comfortable presenting oral reasons in front of an audience. Videotaping practice sets of oral reasons can be helpful in identifying areas in need of improvement.

What are scenarios like?

Welfare assessment scenarios are presented through both live visits to animal facilities and with digital multimedia presentations using a PowerPoint interface called Adobe Presenter. Sample scenarios can be found under the Prepare tab.

How do I prepare?

Traveling trophies

Awarded to the highest placing team in each Division, the trophies feature original artwork by Lynne Millman.