Animal Welfare Judging Contest

Animal Welfare Judging Contest

Sponsored by The American Veterinary Medical Association

19.00 h to 21.00 h Tuesday July 31st

Location: McDougall Hall: Alex Mackinnon Auditorium and Schurman Market Square

Food, drinks and prizes will be provided by AVMA.

Canada is a land rich in natural beauty and multi-cultural heritage, known for its devotion to ice hockey, soaring Rocky Mountains, magnificent moose, culinary delights like poutine, and its nearly decade-long domination of the intercollegiate animal welfare judging contest.

Wait, what? Canada is known for domination of welfare judging? Yes, you heard right! Founded at Michigan State University in 2001, the Intercollegiate Animal Welfare Judging and Assessment Contest ( was modeled on traditional livestock, horse and meat judging competitions to encourage students to learn about welfare while competing with students from universities across North America (and occasionally beyond)! The competition has been resoundingly successful in helping students develop critical scientific reasoning and oral communication skills, as they are asked to judge everything from swine to seals and evaluate welfare using scientific data and present their rationales to expert judges.

For nearly a decade, the teams from Canadian universities have consistently taken top honors at the welfare judging. Now, we North Americans have decided to let the rest of the world in on the fun by hosting ISAE’s first-ever Animal Welfare Judging Competition.

So if you’re a little bit curious as to what this is all about and think you’re a dab hand at assessing welfare, come put your skills to the test on Tuesday evening for a little friendly competition!

Janice Siegford
Michigan State University

What is an Animal Welfare Judging/Assessment Contest?

In 2001, Camie Heleski, Adroaldo Zanella and Ed Pajor proposed adapting traditional livestock judging competitions to encourage university students to learn about scientific assessment of animal welfare. In 2002, they launched the first Animal Welfare Judging/Assessment Contest (AWJAC)—with 18 undergraduates competing from 4 universities. In 2017 the contest had grown to 35 teams representing 20 universities with 144 participants in undergraduate, graduate, and veterinary student divisions.

In traditional livestock judging competitions, students are presented with a class of several individual animals and asked to rank them with respect to their merit relative to their breed or purpose. In welfare assessment, students go beyond ranking the individuals based on their appearance to examining the animals’ responses, the conditions in which they are kept, and the management practices they experience. In the AWJAC, students assess hypothetical, realistic scenarios containing performance, health, physiological, and behavioral data as well as information about physical and social environments, human-animal interactions, and management practices for two situations.

Virtual scenarios, presented in a PowerPoint-based format, are evaluated by individual students. These scenarios typically present two different animals or groups of animals at different facilities for comparison. They include images, video, data, and descriptions of practices and facilities.

Screenshot showing the enrichment protocol from a virtual elephant welfare assessment scenario.

Screenshot showing time budgets from a guinea pig welfare assessment scenario

Screenshot depicting pain outcomes from a virtual meat sheep welfare assessment scenario.

Live scenarios are evaluated by teams of 3-5 students. Live scenarios may consist of one or several groups or types of animals at a single facility. Each team is allowed a short time to tour the facility and receives background information on management and veterinary practices that are not observable.

Students examining horses on pasture during a live assessment at a horse farm.

Students examining sheep in covered pens during a live assessment at a sheep farm

After both types of assessments, students determine which animals have better welfare and present oral reasons supporting their rationale. Reasons are presented to a judge or panel of judges (in the case of the team assessment) with expertise in animal welfare science and specific knowledge of the species they are judging. During the team assessment, students may also be asked to recommend welfare-related improvements for the facility and answer judges’ questions.

While the assessment of various aspects of animal welfare can be objective and quantifiable, decisions about where on the continuum welfare is acceptable, preferred, or unacceptable often come down to value-based choices. The AWJAC teaches students to integrate science-based knowledge with ethical values in an interdisciplinary approach to problem-solving.

Initially, the AWJAC was conducted only using livestock species; now it encompasses production, companion, laboratory, and exotic animals. Species assessed have ranged from traditional livestock and poultry species to fish in aquaculture and farmed white-tailed deer to Asian elephants and giraffes in zoos to guinea pigs and rats in laboratories and to parakeets. In fall of 2018, at the 18th AWJAC, the species to be assessed will be horses (live), green iguanas, egg-laying ducks, and dairy goats.

What will the ISAE Judging/Assessment Contest Look Like??

 In 2018, we will hold a mini-mock animal welfare judging/assessment contest at the ISAE Congress. Following a brief introduction of the contest, a virtual assessment scenario will be presented. Participants will work in teams to assess the scenario and prepare reasons for presentation to expert judges.

If you have ever participated in or coached at AWJAC, and you would like to help during the ISAE contest, please contact me (Janice Siegford at I’m hoping to engage those of you with more experience in acting as a ‘coach’ for a team of novice participants, as an expert judge, a scenario writer, or as an extra set of hands to help run the contest!

What species will be assessed at the ISAE contest?

 In order to ensure a more level playing field, the species to be assessed will not be revealed prior to the contest. The species will most likely be somewhat out of the ordinary in an attempt to create a level playing field for all the participants.


Conference locations on campus