What difference does a visit make? Changes in animal welfare perceptions after interested citizens tour a dairy farm

Beth Ann Ventura, Marina A.G. Von Keyserlingk, Hannah Wittman, Daniel M. Weary

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

100 Scopus citations


Citizens' concerns about farm animal welfare are often dismissed on the assumption that they are not well informed about farming practices. We conducted exploratory surveys of interested citizens (n = 50) before and after a self-guided tour of a 500-head dairy farm. 'Before' survey questions explored perceptions, concerns, and values about dairy cattle farming and welfare, in addition to a short knowledge-based quiz on dairy cattle husbandry. An 'after' survey explored the extent to which these constructs shifted after the tour. Before, most participants correctly answered quiz questions about general feeding and housing practices, but scores were low on questions about specific practices such as cow-calf separation. Participants considered several elements as necessary for a 'good' life for dairy cattle: fresh food and water, pasture access, gentle handling, space, shelter, hygiene, fresh air and sunshine, social companions, absence of stress, health, and safety from predators. These elements reflect a diverse conception of animal welfare that incorporates values for physical and mental well-being, natural living, and humane care. The visit had a mixed effect on perceptions of whether dairy cows had a 'good' life, improving perceptions for a quarter of participants, worsening perceptions in a third, with no shift in the remaining participants. The visit appeared to mitigate some concerns (e.g., provision of adequate food and water, gentle humane care) while reinforcing or eliciting others (e.g., lack of pasture access, early cow-calf separation). Moreover, animal welfare-relevant values held by participants (e.g., natural living, care) appeared to play an important role in influencing perceptions of farm practices. These results suggest that education and exposure to livestock farming may resolve certain concerns, but other concerns will likely persist, especially when practices conflict with deeply held values around animal care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0154733
JournalPloS one
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2016
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors extend our deepest appreciation to our participants. Special thanks to N. Dinn and J.R. Thompson at the University of British Columbia Dairy Education and Research Centre for allowing us to conduct this project. We are grateful to G. Busch at Georg-August-University Göttingen for her assistance in data coding and analysis. Thanks also to K. Knowlton at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for her assistance in data collection, and to D. Fraser for providing feedback on earlier versions of the manuscript. The University of British Columbia, together with the Animal Welfare Program and its donors, provided the funding for this study. B. A. Ventura was supported through the University of British Columbia Four Year Doctoral Fellowship Program.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Ventura et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


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