A systematic review of animal based indicators of sheep welfare on farm, at market and during transport, and qualitative appraisal of their validity and feasibility for use in UK abattoirs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • Pol Llonch
  • Elisabeth M. King
  • Kenneth A. Clarke
  • J. M. Downes
  • Laura Green

Colleges, School and Institutes


In the UK, it has been suggested that abattoirs are ideal locations to assess the welfare of sheep as most are slaughtered at abattoirs either as finished lambs or cull ewes. Data from abattoirs could provide benchmarks for welfare indicators at a national level, as well as demonstrating how these change over time. Additionally, feedback could be provided to farmers and regulatory authorities to help improve welfare and identify high or low standards for quality assurance or risk-based inspections. A systematic review of the scientific literature was conducted, which identified 48 animal-based indicators of sheep welfare that were categorised by the Five Freedoms. Their validity as measures of welfare and feasibility for use in abattoirs were evaluated as potential measures of prior sheep welfare on the farm of origin, at market, or during transportation to the abattoir. A total of 19 indicators were considered valid, of which nine were considered theoretically feasible for assessing sheep welfare at abattoirs; these were body cleanliness, carcass bruising, diarrhoea, skin lesions, skin irritation, castration, ear notching, tail docking and animals recorded as ?obviously sick?. Further investigation of these indicators is required to test their reliability and repeatability in abattoirs. Novel welfare indicators are needed to assess short-term hunger and thirst, prior normal behaviour and long-term fear and distress.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)289-297
Number of pages9
JournalThe Veterinary Journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2015