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The State of Animal Welfare in Traditional Poultry Farming In Ghana

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Animal Welfare in Ghana

World Organisation for Animal Health considers an animal to be in a good state of welfare if it is healthy, comfortable, well-nourished, and able to express innate behavior and not suffering from pain, fear, or distress (WOAH, 2008). Broom (1991) defines animal welfare as “the welfare of an individual is its state as regards its attempts to cope with its environment”. In a layman’s view, animal welfare will encompass ensuring all animals used by man have their fundamental needs and well-being fulfilled about food, health, shelter, and no unnecessary suffering in providing for human wants and needs.

 

According to the World Bank, around 500 million pastoralists globally rely on livestock herding for food, income, and as a store of wealth, collateral, or safety net in times of need. Many Africans depend on livestock for food, income, and other socio-economic benefits (Masiga, Munyua 2005)

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In Ghana, Cultural traditions where animal sacrifices are involved are a common practice among many cultures (Qekwana et al, 2019). The animals may include poultry: chicken, duck, guinea fowl, turkey, and quail; small and large ruminants: sheep, goat, and cattle. Ceremonies, where an animal is slaughtered, include: seeking help for personal problems, showing respect for the ancestors, and celebrating important events such as weddings, births, and also for funerals (Michel et al. 2004). The choice of animal to be slaughtered often depends on the type of ceremony to be performed and affordability.

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The perceptions of animal welfare in Ghana differ by region, culture, and customs, however, the lack of understanding or tolerance for welfare-related issues has resulted in conflicts and misunderstandings among the people and between traditional slaughter and science-based slaughter (Qekwana et al, 2019).

Animal welfare issues in Ghana are often complex and linked to cultural, social, religious, political, and economic factors (Bayvel et al., 2005). This is further complicated by differences in people’s beliefs and understanding of what is meant by ‘welfare’ (Bayvel, 2008). Many tribes and clans in Africa recognize certain animals as totems, that is, guardian spirits and helpers. The clans or tribes are obligated not to kill, eat or destroy the totem that they associate with (Asare et al, 2014).

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Animals are an important component of the ecosystem that ensures a sustainable self-regulated balance. However, there are various means by which the balance in this ecosystem is disrupted which results in detrimental impacts on the survival of the biota. The United Nations Sustainable Development strategy helps in the promotion of welfare in various countries; “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”; Goals 14 and 15, look at a world in which humanity lives in harmony with nature and in which wildlife and other living species are also protected while taking into consideration human and animal health and welfare.

 

Traditional Poultry Welfare in Ghana

There are no data on traditional poultry farming and its output in Ghana. However, Ghana’s poultry industry has been growing exponentially since 2008 with an estimated population of 74.5 million chickens in 2017 as per the Ghana Poultry Project. Poultry in Ghana is bred based on the extensive or semi-intensive system of farming usually in the rural areas and the deep litter or battery cage system of intensive farming in the urban cities.

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Birds reared in the extensive system usually fend for themselves and those in the semi-intensive system also fend for themselves during the day and receive little or no food later in the day resulting in a poor growth rate, and reduced hatchability with an associated decrease in production. Usually, only birds reared from a business standpoint receive at least the minimum daily feed requirements, however, this is usually associated with the intensive system of production and rarely the semi-intensive system of production.

With continuously changing harsh weather conditions, birds are exposed to various kinds of environmental conditions leading to disease susceptibility and outbreaks. Birds that survive infectious diseases later become immune and in some cases birds shed the disease-causing pathogen into the environment. Such handling scenarios don’t meet all the criteria for health and welfare enshrined in the “Five Freedom” framework: Freedom from hunger and thirst, discomfort, pain, injury, disease, fear, and distress, as well as the freedom to express normal behavior.

In using the five freedoms to analyze the systems of poultry production in Ghana: In the extensive system of production, birds usually enjoy a sufficient level of comfort, expressing of normal behavior, and have minimal pain and injury. However, the little or no attention is given to them predisposes the birds to predators, theft, hunger, and thirst, especially in the dry seasons, infections of all sorts (which can contribute to disease outbreaks), and relocation of birds which with little or no method of identification (lack of evidence-based identification) leads to quarrel, fight among Neighbours; anybody can claim ownership of bird(s) in their territory, especially in fenced places, also birds in some places have no shelter.

Birds in the semi-intensive system have also the optimum freedom to express their normal behavior as they are provided with sufficient space and to associate with animals of their kind. The semi-intensive system also ensures some levels of freedom from discomfort by providing birds with a comfortable resting area such as sheds or pens under trees. Birds in this type of production are provided with conditions and treatments which avoid mental suffering as they are not subjected to a lot of handling. Unfortunately, the semi-intensive production system has not advanced enough to adequately provide birds with freedom from hunger and thirst and freedoms from pain, injuries, and diseases. However, in Ghana, the semi-intensive system and the extensive system are widely practiced across multiple ethnicities.

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Birds are provided with significant improvement in the freedom from hunger and thirst and freedom from discomfort as birds are supplemented with feed and water, and a shelter is observed mostly in the intensive system of production which is usually commercialized. In this system of production, there is a conscious effort to ensure the safety of the birds as measurements are put in place so that resting areas and shelters are free of predator animals and conditions that may affect the health of birds. .

By Vincent Mensah and Daniel Abiliba

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