UW-Madison teams win top spots in animal welfare assessment contest

Teams from the UW-Madison placed first and second in the undergraduate division at the 10th annual Animal Welfare Judging and Assessment Contest in East Lansing Nov. 20-21. Seventy-eight students representing nine universities and veterinary colleges from across North America converged on Michigan State University (MSU) for this event.

Five teams, including two from Madison, competed in the undergraduate division. Other schools participating were Michigan State University, the University of Guelph (Ontario) and the University of Missouri.

Team 2 from the University of Wisconsin, coached by Terry Jobsis, animal science research program manager, placed first in the undergraduate division. Team members were Elyse Ahrendt, Nicole Austreng, Erin Harris, Katie Kennedy and Megan Nelson. Team 1 from the University of Wisconsin placed second and MSU finished third.

Individually, Harris placed first in the undergraduate division. Placing second was Sarahbeth Barlas from MSU. Dana Wagner, University of Wisconsin (Team 1), placed third, and Erin Geary, University of Missouri, placed fourth.

The annual event, which is divided into undergraduate, graduate and veterinary college divisions, reminds participants of the growing relevance of animal welfare issues. The students compete in events focused on increasing their understanding of welfare and care issues affecting animals used for human purposes, including food production, research and companionship.

“This contest encourages students to think critically about welfare issues and provides them with an opportunity to share their thoughts with colleagues and receive constructive feedback,” says Dr. Cia Johnson of the Animal Welfare Division at the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), one of the groups that sponsors the event. “The skills the students practice at this contest will be part of a repertoire that they will use every day when making decisions in their careers.”

“The contest gives students a chance to apply scientific knowledge to make decisions about the quality of animal welfare in a given scenario as opposed to basing decisions solely on assumptions or emotions,” said Camie Heleski, MSU animal science instructor and one of the founders of the contest and coach for the MSU undergraduate judging team. “They learn skills that can be used to make well-informed decisions in future careers regardless of whether they become livestock producers, animal welfare auditors or veterinarians.”

Competitors work independently to evaluate three welfare scenarios and also as part of their college’s team to complete one on-farm assessment, and then defend their analysis to a panel of judges. The goal is to put students in the most real-life situations possible, providing them the opportunity to evaluate animal welfare and behavior just as they would in a future career. This year, the individual contest scenarios focused on working and service dogs, broiler chickens and giraffes. The on-farm assessment involved a site visit to the MSU Beef Teaching and Research Center.