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J Anim Sci. 2016 Dec;94(12):5439-5455. doi: 10.2527/jas.2016-0805.

INVITED REVIEW: Farm size and animal welfare.

Abstract

Critics of agricultural intensification have argued that the transition from smaller to larger farms has compromised animal welfare. To critically examine evidence relevant to this claim, we reviewed more than 150 publications that examined the relationship between farm size and at least one animal welfare indicator. Although much of this literature focuses on dairy cattle, we also reference other farmed species where appropriate. We found little evidence of any simple relationship, negative or positive, between farm size and animal welfare. Instead, the evidence suggests that larger farms provide some opportunities to improve animal welfare but may also create welfare risks. For example, larger farms permit more specialized and professional management of animal health but can make it more difficult to accommodate outdoor access that some view as integral to animal welfare. Future research should attempt to specify the underlying casual mechanisms by which statistical associations between farm size and indicators of welfare are believed to occur. We also suggest that policy and advocacy efforts aimed at reversing increases in farm size would be better directed toward improving welfare on farms of all sizes.

PMID:
28046157
DOI:
10.2527/jas.2016-0805
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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