Scientists say sheep stress levels experienced during road transportation can be better measured by assessing their behaviour via video footage.

Veterinarian Teresa Collins, from Murdoch University, told the Australian Veterinary Association’s annual conference in Perth on Thursday that stress levels in travelling sheep were usually measured using physiological responses such as heart rate levels.

But it was not always practical to do physical examinations.

A new study using behavioural measures, called Qualitative Behavioural Assessment (QBA), has been found to correlate with some physiological stress responses of sheep and cattle during road transport, she said.

Observers score sheep behaviour and use descriptions such as “calm”, “agitated” and “nervous” by watching the animals’ body language from video footage taken during transportation.

The study showed sheep were affected by the type of crate and deck level.

“Those transported in the upper decks were described as more alert, curious and aware than sheep in the lower decks,” Dr Collins said.

“The position in the vehicle crate and the design of the crate are likely to affect how sheep experience the transport journey, as factors such as ventilation, head space and the ability to move around, or view their surroundings varied.”

Dr Collins said QBA could be used to detect stressed sheep and might indicate modifications needed in transport facilities to maximise animal welfare.

“The results of the study demonstrated QBA is an emerging and valuable monitoring tool that could assist in promoting best practice guidelines for industry,” she said.

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