Animal-Based Measures for the On-Farm Welfare
Assessment of Geese
Carlo Tremolada 1, * , Halina Bieli ´nska 2, Michela Minero 1, Valentina Ferrante 3,
Elisabetta Canali 1and Sara Barbieri 1
1Dipartimento di Medicina Veterinaria, Universitàdegli Studi di Milano, 26900 Lodi, Italy;
firstname.lastname@example.org (M.M.); email@example.com (E.C.); firstname.lastname@example.org (S.B.)
2Kołuda Wielka Experimental Station, The National Research Institute of Animal Production,
88-160 Janikowo, Poland; email@example.com
3Dipartimento di Scienze e Politiche Ambientali, Universitàdegli Studi di Milano, 20133 Milano, Italy;
Received: 22 April 2020; Accepted: 17 May 2020; Published: 20 May 2020
This paper aims to identify animal-based measures of geese welfare for birds
raised in commercial meat production systems, and to assess the reliability of these measures. As with
other livestock production systems, it is important that geese producers can demonstrate compliance
with accepted welfare standards. Presently, there are no welfare measures that have been developed
speciﬁcally for the geese meat industry. The results showed that plumage dirtiness, twisted wings,
and broken/twisted wings are valid and reliable measures of goose welfare and can thus be included
in on-farm welfare assessment protocols. Future studies should examine the reliability of other
Currently, no speciﬁc animal-based measures (ABMs) protocols are available for geese in
commercial meat production systems. Following a critical review of the literature and consultation
of experts, seven ABMs, potentially valid and feasible for the on-farm welfare assessment of geese,
were identiﬁed and then tested in 12 farms in Poland to assess their inter-observer reliability.
Two observers conducted the assessment, which was divided into two phases. First, a handling test
assessed the human–animal relationship (HAR), and a 100% inter-observer reliability was achieved
by the observers when evaluating the attitudes of stockpeople and the reactions of geese to humans.
Next, an animal inspection was conducted, and the observers simultaneously and independently
visually evaluated 100 randomly selected geese per farm and assessed whether the selected ABMs
could be identiﬁed. In terms of inter-observer reliability, high correlation coeﬃcients were found for
plumage dirtiness (
=0.745; p<0.01), twisted wings (
=0.890; p<0.001), and broken/twisted wings
=0.858; p<0.001). The results showed that plumage dirtiness, twisted wings, and broken/twisted
wings are valid and reliable measures. Further research should address the reliability of ABMs of
geese in other types of production systems.
Keywords: goose; animal welfare; animal-based measure; inter-observer reliability
Social awareness of farm animal rearing conditions has increased in recent years [
], and animal
welfare has become a prerequisite for companies that aim to develop high-quality and sound animal
products for the global market .
Animals 2020,10, 890; doi:10.3390/ani10050890 www.mdpi.com/journal/animals
Animals 2020,10, 890 2 of 10
Welfare is a multidimensional concept that includes the consideration of both the physical
and mental states of animals [
], so its assessment should be based on measures developed using
Two broad categories of measures can be used to assess animal welfare at the on-farm level:
Resource-based and animal-based (ABMs) [
]. Rearing conditions have previously been evaluated
using assessment methods mainly focused on resources (e.g., feeding systems, space availability,
and housing) and on management factors [
]. ABMs relate directly to the animal rather than to its
living environment [
], and can thus be obtained from various housing conditions and uniquely used
to compare farming systems, enabling the standardization of evaluation methods. Therefore, valid,
reliable, and feasible measures should be identiﬁed so on-farm welfare assessment protocols can be
Integrating ABMs into on-farm welfare assessment protocols also supports the European
Commission’s call for a more outcome-based approach to integrating the EU’s animal welfare
regulatory framework [
]. The protocols should also be science-based to ensure they comply with
legislation or standards that guarantee the welfare of farm animals.
Few protocols for assessing animal welfare at the farm level that include valid, reliable, and feasible
ABMs are currently in place. Welfare assessment protocols for poultry have been developed [
but no ABM-based protocols assess the welfare of geese under commercial production.
Geese were ﬁrst domesticated over 3000 years ago and are now mainly reared for meat and down
]. Geese can be raised successfully on pasture with little equipment and simple housing
facilities in areas where green grass is available for a large part of the year. Under free-range conditions,
adult geese only require indoor housing or shelter in winter or during stormy weather [
]. Geese are
excellent grazers, well adapted to most environments, and forage extensively, and thus are particularly
easy to rear compared to other poultry species, while maintaining a high and eﬃcient growth rate [
Despite these positive aspects, goose production is marginal in many countries, and is only
economically relevant in Asia and Central Europe [11,12].
There are some regulations on the welfare of the goose mainly about the production of feathers or
the production of foie gras [
]. Research into the eﬀects of management practices on the welfare of
geese raised for meat production is more limited than other poultry species, which prevents speciﬁc
animal-based measures from being identiﬁed and subsequently welfare assessment protocols from
The approach and the methodology for identifying a set of speciﬁc animal-based measures to
assess the welfare of fattening geese under commercial conditions are described in this study, and the
most pressing welfare issues are identiﬁed. The resulting list of measures was tested on-farm to assess
2. Materials and Methods
The welfare measures were determined through two stages: A set of ABMs were ﬁrst selected
based on their validity and feasibility for on-farm use, and inter-observer reliability was then tested
after the observers were trained to use the ABMs.
2.1. Selection of Animal-Based Measures
In the ﬁrst stage of the project, a critical review of the literature was conducted to identify the
key studies addressing animal-based welfare measures in birds raised in commercial meat production
systems. Various databases (Web of Science, CAB Abstracts, and PubMed) were searched using
keywords such as “feather pecking”, “gait”, “beak trimming”, “mutilations”, “feathers conditions”,
“feathers harvesting”, “twisted wings“, “angel wings”, “broken wings”, human-animal relationship”,
“behavior test”, “animal-based”, “animal welfare”, “indicator”, “measure”, “on-farm”, “inter-observer
reliability” combined with “goose”, “geese”, “duck”, “poultry”.
Animals 2020,10, 890 3 of 10
The search resulted in about 60 citations from which studies addressing geese production and
animal-based welfare measures were initially selected. Due to the limited number of studies on geese,
relevant publications on welfare measures developed for ducks and poultry (turkeys and broilers) were
included. We excluded any studies that solely concentrated on resource-based or management-based
measures. After the selection process, a total of 22 papers and two welfare assessment protocols
and AWIN for turkeys), published between 1973 and 2019, satisﬁed the search
criteria, identifying 12 ABMs.
In a second phase, a one-day consultation with scientists from the National Research Institute
of Animal Production of Poland, internationally acknowledged for their expertise in goose farming
was carried out. In order to deﬁne the most promising ABMs to be tested on-farm, scientists were
asked to evaluate each ABM for its validity, in terms of the extent to which its scores represent the
variable they are intended to measure [
], and feasibility, i.e., practicality for on-farm assessment,
particularly when applied to semi-extensive rearing conditions. After group discussion, a synthesis
was made, where scientists reached a consensus on validity and feasibility of seven ABMs. The ﬁnal
selected ABMs were as follows.
Plumage dirtiness describes a condition in which the feathers covering the breast area of geese
are soiled with faeces or dirty litter. Dirty feathers can lose their protective properties, which has a
signiﬁcant eﬀect on bird welfare [
]. The plumage conditions of commercially reared birds are
routinely assessed through the Welfare Quality
assessment protocol for broilers and in the AWIN for
Twisted wing is a musculoskeletal disorder in which the ﬂight feathers of one or both wings of a
bird twist away from the body, mainly during growth [
]. As reported in [
], welfare problems such
as a high stocking density, a fast growth rate, and genetic selection are the main factors contributing to
the twisted wing in white geese. Visually examining the wing posture can provide a feasible assessment
measure of the presence of wing deformities in commercially reared geese .
Feather pecking is an abnormal behavior involving rapid and vigorous pecking directed towards
the feathers of another bird, resulting in a poor plumage condition, patches of feather loss, and skin
]. Some researches into waterfowl [
], and other poultry have investigated the feasibility
of measuring feather pecking and its validity in commercial farms [6,7,23].
Broken wings are a valid and feasible animal-based measure that can be used to assess the welfare
of geese submitted to inappropriate feather collection and poor catching or handling [14,24].
Immobility can result from health problems, severe walking deﬁciency and abnormalities in
standing posture, and gait in waterfowl [
]. Measures such as posture and walking ability are
commonly used in assessments of duck and geese welfare [
]. A lack of mobility is relevant to
poultry welfare and the ability to walk is routinely assessed as part of the Welfare Quality
protocol for broilers and in the AWIN for turkeys [6,7].
Feather irregularities, bloody feather quills, and skin injuries in the ventral-breast area are
indicators that feathers were collected inappropriately. Consequently, they can be used to assess the
forcible removal of unripe feathers during commercial collection .
Handling tests are designed to measure animals’ reactions to human beings, and the attitudes
and behavior of stockpeople during routine interactions with animals [
]. These interactions are
associated with animal welfare parameters such as levels of fear, stress responses, and productivity [
Methodologies for assessing how comfortable animals are with people have been developed and
applied, and human–animal relation tests are the tools most commonly included in welfare assessment
protocols (e.g., avoidance distance test in the Welfare Quality®assessment protocol for poultry ).
2.2. Birds and Management
The reﬁned set of seven ABMs was tested in 12 semi-extensive farms located in the same
geographical region in Poland, which had an average ﬂock size of 6450 geese per farm. The study
was conducted in the summer with steadily good weather conditions. Geese were housed in one
Animals 2020,10, 890 4 of 10
single ﬂock in each farm. The animals were White Koluda fattening geese ranging from 10 to 12 weeks
of age at the time of the evaluation and the age of slaughter was at 15 weeks. The stocking density
was between 0.42 and 1.32 birds/m
. Each farm had one or two indoor houses, which included using
chopped straw as bedding, automatic drinkers, manual feeders, artiﬁcial light, and windows. A fenced
pasture was available for the geese to graze on at each farm during daylight hours while they were kept
indoors at night. Their diet consisted of grasses with supplemental feeding of grains and concentrated
feeds twice a day. All the farms participating in the study were part of a controlled supply chain subject
to routine audits.
The ABMs were evaluated by one of the authors (Obs-1) and a veterinarian (Obs-2), both of
them experienced in goose behavior and welfare, although Obs-2 had limited experience with ABMs.
Before carrying out the on-farm evaluation, Obs-2 underwent a training period to learn how to perform
and score all the selected measures. The training was carried out by a team of experts, which included
the Obs-1 and consisted of two phases: First, e-learning and then discussion in a virtual meeting
room. The e-learning phase was developed in order to reduce time and costs related to the training,
without losing accuracy in the assessment. Each welfare measure was transferred into a learning
object organized in diﬀerent categories: Description, how to assess, how to score, and some practical
examples. Then, a virtual meeting room, enabling doubts to be clariﬁed, was performed in order to
acquire a uniform level of skills necessary to perform the assessment accurately and reliably.
The training ended with an assessment to evaluate the learning and its eﬀectiveness, and consisted
of 20 questions (including videos and/or pictures); the training was considered complete when the
assessor achieved over 70% of correct answers.
2.4. Data Collection
During the handling test, one observer asked the stockperson to walk inside the pen and to lead a
group of geese (ranging from a minimum of 20 to a maximum of 30 birds) for 1 min from a deﬁned
place (point A) of the fenced pasture to another one (point B), using his/her routine handling techniques.
During the test, only the stockperson was close to the animals while the observers remained at a
distance (approx. 15 m), to ensure the test was properly conducted.
The remaining six ABMs were assessed by an animal inspection after the handling test, to avoid
excessive disturbance of the animals. The inspection was carried out in the indoor houses and in the
pasture, depending on where geese were at the time of inspection. Before starting the inspection,
the general status of the animals was observed and both observers waited until the ﬂock settled down.
The pasture and the indoor house (if available for geese during daylight hours) were divided
along predetermined paths, covering the full area the geese were located in at the time of inspection.
Obs-1 and Obs-2 walked slowly alongside the paths in a random order, stopping every 12 steps.
Both observers simultaneously and independently visually evaluated a maximum of four randomly
selected geese every time they stopped, maintaining a distance of about 1 m from the inspected animals.
At the end of the assessment, a total of 100 geese were assessed in each farm. Geese were not restrained
nor individually handled by the stockperson or by the observers. Data were recorded using speciﬁc
recording sheets by both observers. The assessment of each measure and of the scoring system is
described in Table 1.
Animals 2020,10, 890 5 of 10
Table 1. Description of each animal-based measure (ABM) and of the scoring system.
ABMs Description Two-Point Scale Scoring System Level
The observer evaluates the
stockperson’s attitude when
dealing with the animals and
the reactions of geese to
0=approaching and speaking in a gentle voice, walking
slowly, touching the animals gently with a stick.
1=shouting loudly, handling or hitting the animals forcefully
with a stick.
0= >50% of geese showing normal behavior.
1= >50% of geese showing adverse or fear reactions,
avoidance reactions, loud vocalizations, or wing ﬂapping.
The observer visually
inspects the ventral-breast
area. Presence of mud
attributed to current weather
conditions is not considered
as plumage dirtiness.
0=no signs of dirt or slight dirt of plumage covering less than
50% of the ventral-breast area.
1=more than 50% of the plumage of ventral-breast area is
contaminated with dirt or feces 3.
The observer visually
inspects the ventral-breast
0=smooth feathers with no signs of disturbance. There is no
evidence of skin lesions to any part of the ventral-breast area.
1=presence of bloody feather quills, skin injuries, or feathers
that are diﬀerent in maturity compared to those on the rest of
the body that indicate the forcible removal of unripe feathers.
Broken wings The observer visually
inspects the wings posture.
0=both wings are in a normal posture.
1=one or both wings are dangling. I
Twisted wings The observer visually
inspects wings posture.
0=both wings are in a normal posture.
1=one or both wings are twisted with primary feathers
projecting away from the body (angle of deviation ranging
from <30 to >60◦).
The observer visually
inspects the plumage
condition of neck and back
0=neck and back regions are covered with smooth and
feathers that ﬁt neatly along the body.
1=feathers are disturbed, broken, or even torn out. Presence
of patches of lost feathers (diameter >5 cm) or skin damages.
The observer visually
evaluates the birds’ ability to
0=normal walking ability.
1=complete immobility, severe abnormality in walking, or
reluctance to move.
The ABM is scored at group level;
the ABM is scored at individual level;
presence of mud was not considered
as plumage dirtiness.
2.5. Statistical Analysis
The mean numbers of geese within each animal-based measure category were calculated for
each observer. Prevalence indices for all of the ABMs were calculated. The prevalence index is the
absolute diﬀerence between the agreed numbers for the two categories, divided by the total number
of animals (prevalence index =
/n), where a is the number of agreed-upon animals in one of
the categories and d is the number for the other categories, and nis the total number of possible
agreements, i.e., the number of animals. A prevalence index of 0 indicates a completely balanced
population, while an index of 1 indicates a homogenous population in which only one of the categories
is represented .
A Kolmogorov–Smirnov test was applied to the continuous variables to assess the normality of
data distribution. Though Cohen’s kappa (
) is the elective measure of an inter-rater agreement for
categorical scales when there are two raters, it is not considered reliable in case of small or skewed
populations similar to that used in this study. Therefore, the inter-observer reliability was analyzed by
calculating Spearman’s correlation ranks.
The data were not normally distributed; therefore, nonparametric tests were used to analyze the
data. The results from the handling test showed that both Obs-1 and Obs-2 reached 100% agreement
in evaluating the stockperson’s attitude when dealing with the animals, and the reactions of geese
Animals 2020,10, 890 6 of 10
to humans, in all the assessed farms. The mean prevalence values of the selected ABMs are given
in Table 2.
SE) prevalence of geese (number of observations, n=100) within each ABMs category
assessed during animal inspection for Obs-1 and Obs-2 in all the inspected farms (n=12).
ABMs Observer 1 Mean (SE) Observer 2 Mean (SE)
Plumage dirtiness 31.66 (25.46) 44.25 (33.17)
Twisted wings 2.25 (2.05) 2.41 (1.78)
Broken wings 0 (0) 0.51 (0.26)
Broken/twisted wings 2.25 (2.05) 2.91 (2.23)
Feather irregularities 0 (0) 0 (0)
Feather pecking 0 (0) 0 (0)
Immobility 0 (0) 0 (0)
Only the ABMs with a mean value of prevalence >0 were analyzed to calculate the inter-observer
reliability. These were plumage dirtiness, twisted wings, and broken wings. The mean values were
consistent between observers for the considered ABMs with the exception of broken wings (Obs-1 =0;
Obs-2 =0.5). The prevalence of broken wings was very low for both observers, and a new measure,
“broken/twisted wings,” was created by merging broken and twisted wing observations.
The inter-observer reliability showed high correlation coeﬃcients for plumage dirtiness (
p<0.01; prevalence index =0.36), twisted wings (
=0.890; p<0.001; prevalence index =0.95),
and broken/twisted wings (
=0.858; p<0.001; prevalence index =0.95), with a balanced prevalence
for plumage dirtiness.
In this study, we investigate the use of species-speciﬁc animal-based measures for the assessment
of goose welfare in commercial production systems. Currently, no other available research evaluates
the validity and the reliability of ABMs on commercially raised geese, while speciﬁc research on other
poultry species can be found in the scientiﬁc literature [6,7,31,32].
In the initial step, a list of relevant ABMs were selected from the literature and from available
science-based welfare assessment protocols for other meat poultry (e.g., Welfare Quality
protocol for poultry [
]). Some ABMs (broken bones and feather irregularities) were included to account
for expected diﬀerences between geese and other poultry species, based on speciﬁc management
procedures aﬀecting animal welfare (e.g., live-plucking [
]). As geese are commonly kept in social
groups in extensive or semi-extensive rearing conditions, and as they are large and have a ﬂighty
nature, all the ABMs in the study were adapted to be applied with no or minimal handling of the birds.
The assessment of the human–animal relationship using speciﬁc behavioral tests is common in
protocols intended to evaluate animal welfare at the farm level [
]. As reported [
], the nature
of the interactions between stockpeople and farm animals is an important component aﬀecting the
animals’ welfare: Positive interactions can reduce stress and fear in animals and increase productivity,
while aversive human–animal relationships may reduce their performance [
]. However, no speciﬁc
HAR tests have been validated for geese. In this study, we aimed to evaluate the HAR in commercially
raised geese using a handling test. A central characteristic for any measurement tool is consistency
in measurements when applied by diﬀerent assessors [
]. According to our results, both Obs-1 and
Obs-2 reached a 100% inter-observer reliability in evaluating the human–animal relationship during
the handling test. In terms of feasibility, the test appeared to be practical when applied to farms,
where the stockperson moved a group of geese from one point to another in the home pen as they
would in daily management procedures.
The results for the ABMs assessed during the animal inspection were consistent across Obs-1 and
Obs-2 for plumage dirtiness, twisted wings, and broken/twisted wings (Table 2).
Animals 2020,10, 890 7 of 10
This study, however, is subject to some limitations. First, diﬀerences were found across observers
for the prevalence of broken wings, and in a few cases for twisted and broken wings. Obs-2 had less
experience in welfare assessment using ABMs, and scored the two wing-related measures (twisted wings
and broken wings) similarly, thus reporting a low level of agreement with Obs-1 (an expert in the use
of animal-based measures). The interpretation of twisted wings may have been unclear, as they were
ascribed as broken by the less experienced assessor (Obs-2). Then, the inter-observer reliability of
broken wings was thus proven to be diﬃcult to achieve, as extensive training was required to address
the lack of experience of Obs-2. Although the assessment was carried out by observers with diﬀerent
experiences in assessing geese welfare by using ABMs, our ﬁndings conﬁrm that on-farm training is
essential for achieving good reliability .
Our ﬁndings suggest that the high prevalence of plumage dirtiness can be related to poor litter
conditions, as supported by Saraiva [
], and hence provides information regarding goose welfare
at the farm level. The high SE values also suggest high variability among farms reﬂecting diﬀerent
management conditions, particularly concerning housing design and litter management. The plumage
condition is important for thermoregulation, and when the feathers are wet or soiled by litter they may
lose their protective properties, thus having negative eﬀects on the birds’ welfare [
]. In addition,
when the down is soiled by faeces or dirty litter, there may be negative consequences on its color,
which is an important factor aﬀecting the down value.
Few studies have reported the prevalence of twisted wings in commercially raised geese [
According to our study, a small number of geese showed wing deformity. Our ﬁndings are supported
by Lyn, who reported that slight twisted wings returned to a normal position during 10 to 14 weeks
of age when secondary feathers reached full maturity [
]. Moreover, our study was conducted in
extensive or semi-extensive rearing conditions in which geese have access to pasture, which provides
them with all the required nutrients, and thus may not suﬀer from vitamin deﬁciency and elevated
protein concentration in the diet, which are suggested causes leading to this deformity .
The prevalence of feather irregularities, feather pecking, and immobility was low because these
ABMs have never been found on the assessed farms. As pointed out by Burn [
], “the prevalence
of certain observations reduces the reliability ratings”. Therefore, when evaluating inter-observer
reliability, scientists should consider the prevalence of the diﬀerent ABMs in the population assessed.
An unbalanced prevalence could lower the reliability statistics, and reporting the prevalence index
alongside other measures of agreement showed that for some ABMs the populations were too
homogenous for conclusive reliability ratings. Although feather irregularities, feather pecking,
and immobility have been identiﬁed as important measures for deﬁning poultry welfare at the farm
], the reliability for these ABMs was diﬃcult to prove. However, our results suggest
an agreement between Obs-1 and Obs-2, as neither of them found any of these measures in any
In the present study, the selected ABMs were identiﬁed based on key studies of animal-based
measures in commercial waterfowl and poultry production.
The lower prevalence of the selected ABMs compared to those in other poultry species may
indicate the better welfare conditions of geese, probably due to diﬀerent housing and management
practices. All the assessed farms were free-range, and the geese could, therefore, express their natural
behavior (e.g., grazing and movement activity), and more space was available than in intensive farming
systems. High stocking density and poor environmental conditions are signiﬁcant factors aﬀecting the
welfare of poultry .
Despite the low frequencies of some measurements, the preliminary results of our study suggest
that the identiﬁed animal-based measures may oﬀer a valid, reliable, and feasible tool for assessing the
welfare of geese in extensive or semi-extensive rearing conditions.
Future testing would require the selection of a more diverse geese population. This can be
achieved by including breeding farms, which nowadays tend towards intensive, closed conditions as
Animals 2020,10, 890 8 of 10
well as farms in diﬀerent countries and geographical areas (e.g., China) where diﬀerent husbandry
systems are applied.
As the initial step in the development of a speciﬁc welfare assessment protocol, this study is aimed
at identifying potentially valid, reliable, and feasible animal-based indicators applicable to the on-farm
welfare assessment of geese.
The handling test proved to be practical on farms, with the stockperson moving a group of
geese from a point to another in the home pen, as they would in daily management procedures.
Further studies are needed to assess the possible variation in the agreement between the observers and
to evaluate if the test is sensitive to ﬂuctuations in the welfare status of geese among farms.
The inter-observer reliability was conﬁrmed for three ABMs. Our results show that plumage
dirtiness, twisted wings, and broken/twisted may be valid and reliable measures of goose welfare.
Further studies can consider variations in reliability and verify if the selected ABMs are sensitive
enough for identifying and quantifying welfare diﬀerences.
The low prevalence of feather irregularities, feather pecking, and immobility meant we could not
conﬁrm their reliability.
The selected ABMs can be developed into a valid and feasible tool for the on-farm evaluation of
geese welfare, although adequate training is required to produce reliable data when used by diﬀerent
observers, and further studies are needed to conﬁrm reliability. In addition, the size of the sample
should be increased so the reliability ratings can be fully implemented, and to determine whether
possible diﬀerences in frequency are due to the eﬀect of the sample size or to the housing conditions.
Conceptualization, C.T., S.B. and E.C.; methodology, C.T., S.B. and E.C.; formal analysis,
M.M.; data curation, S.B., M.M. and C.T.; writing—original draft, C.T., S.B. and E.C.; writing—review and editing,
V.F., M.M., H.B., E.C., S.B. and C.T.; supervision, S.B. and C.T.; project administration, S.B. and C.T. All authors
have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.
Funding: This research received no external funding.
Acknowledgments: The authors wish to thank the farmers involved in the data collection.
Conﬂicts of Interest: The authors declare no conﬂict of interest.
This study was conducted in agreement with the International Society for Applied Ethology
(ISAE) ethical guidelines without causing unnecessary distress to the animals.
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