Why Accommodate

The first question that needs to be addressed is: Why should we accommodate the needs of livestock? The idea that livestock are for our use, and therefore, it is they that must accommodate to our needs, is flawed simply because often livestock are unable to accommodate. This inability to accommodate is due to characteristics that are hardwired, innate, or instinctual. These words mean that livestock have needs that are determined by their genetic makeup, thus they can not be altered.

It is in the best interest of producers to accommodate livestock because when the animal's environment and its needs are not matched, animal productivity can decrease and animal health can suffer. The effects on productivity and health are largely due to animals entering a state of distress. Stress can occur when an animal's needs or desires are not met. The animal enters a state of distress when its body tries to cope with stress by altering both physiologic and behavioral parameters, but these adaptations are not able to meet its needs. The severity of the stressor and the productivity measure being affected will determine to what extent productivity is decreased.

Although decreased productivity can be a measure of a mismatch between an animal and its environment, a lack of impaired productivity does not mean that the animal's needs are being satisfied.

Not accommodating livestock needs, which thus results in distress, can also impair animal health. When animals enter a state of distress, their bodies attempt to cope with this stress by increasing glucose availability, altering blood flow, and altering behavior. The hormones responsible for these alterations, often termed stress hormones, can impair the immune system and other functions of the body such as reproduction. Glucocorti-coids are key hormones in the stress response. When an animal is stressed, a cascade of events, starting in the hypothalamus and culminating at the cortex of the adrenal gland, causes the release of glucocorticoids, which are then able to increase glucose availability in order for the animal to effectively respond to the stressor. However, glucocorticoids are also known to be immunosuppressive. Thus, chronic exposure to stress (for example, due to crowding) can allow the animal to succumb to pathogens in the environment, becoming sick and possibly dying. In addition, glucocorticoids are also known to inhibit leutinizing hormone (LH) from the anterior pituitary gland. This hormone is the key for ovulation in females and the production of androgens in males. Farms with low reproductive rates or excessive health-related problems should determine appropriate accommodations to alleviate distress.

An additional reason to meet accommodations of livestock is simply for ethical reasons. If we place animals in situations where there is a mismatch between their inherent natures and their present environment, yet they still produce at a profitable level, we still have a moral obligation to ensure the animals are not suffering unnecessarily. Basic human values dictate that animals must not be subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment. Reasons of profit cannot obviate these rights. Our challenge then is to determine when an animal's adjustments to accommodate to an environment are extraordinary to the point that the animal is subjected to inhumane treatment.

The following paragraphs are an introduction and summary of key areas that must be evaluated when considering accommodations for livestock. More specific information can be found in the following three articles, elsewhere in this encyclopedia: 1) Environment: Effects on Animal Health; 2) Environment: Fulfilling Behavioral Needs; and 3) Environment: Fulfilling Physical Needs. In addition, Ewing, Lay, Eberhard[1] and Moberg and Mench[2] are two books that provide a more comprehensive discussion of these topics.

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