September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Animal Welfare Education in California 4-H

Posted: Monday, June 20th, 2016

by Cheryl L. Meehan, Kelley M. Brian, Lynn Schmitt-McQuitty, Emily Schoenfelder, Martin Smith, Steven M. Worker, and Andrea Ambrose

The 4-H Youth Development Program is a national non-formal education organization for youth ages 5-19. Through its national Science Mission Mandate, the 4-H program has the potential to help advance youth scientific literacy through programming in a wide variety of subject areas, including: plants and animals; environmental and earth sciences; biological sciences; physical sciences; and science and technology (4-H National Headquarters, 2007). 4-H also offers the opportunity for youth to explore topics outside of those covered by school-based science education. For example, each year approximately 30,000 youth enrolled in California 4-H participate in Animal Science projects that involve agricultural, service, and companion animals (California Enrolment Data, 2015). These projects engage youth in the rearing, caring, showing, and in some cases, breeding or marketing of these project animals. Animal Welfare is a topic that is relevant to all Animal Science projects; however, Animal Welfare has not yet been systematically addressed by 4-H in California through educational programming.  

The study of Animal Welfare is a rapidly growing field that engages scientists and veterinarians in research that seeks to provide better understanding of the needs and experiences of animals, and strives to find balance between these and the practices of modern animal use. Furthermore, Animal Welfare is a social and cultural issue that is increasingly being incorporated into the legal and political landscapes. There are few published studies evaluating the impacts of Animal Welfare focused educational programs on youth, but there is developing evidence that humane education programs can have positive impacts on children’s attitudes and behavior toward animals (Tardiff-Williams and Bosacki, 2015), as well as support the development of empathy toward other humans (Ascione and Webber, 1996). Thus, the development and implementation of educational programming for 4-H youth that focuses on Animal Welfare is relevant and timely.

To address this need, a multi-disciplinary team at UC Davis has developed a hands-on, inquiry-based curriculum organized as a set of Animal Welfare Proficiencies that integrate the key scientific and cultural components of Animal Welfare. The curriculum is built around the experiential learning cycle that promotes 4-H Animal Science youth participants to explore these scientific and cultural components in real-world contexts. An introductory module supports exploration of topics central to Animal Welfare and provides experiences with ethical decision making activities. The balance of the curriculum is organized into the five modules described below:

  • Level 1: Animal Behavior

Youth develop skills in behavioral observation, with the focus on animal behavior as a tool for measuring and interpreting Animal Welfare. Youth also gain an understanding of, and appreciation for, behavioral and cognitive capacities of animals.

  • Level 2: Animal Health

Youth engage in activities that introduce “Tip-to-Tail” health checks and health information documentation. Youth also practice observational skills and perform health-related data collection with their own animals.

  • Level 3: Housing and Husbandry

Youth identify basic needs that must be met through animal housing and care, as well as design enrichment plans that support enhanced welfare.

  • Level 4: Human Animal Interactions as an Important Component of Good Welfare

Youth explore human-animal interactions and the connections between these relations and the animal’s welfare.

  • Level 5: Knowledge and Skills Application

In Proficiency 5, youth move to the culminating activities of the project. They use a self-assessment tool to identify welfare risks present in their current practices and then implement strategies to improve the welfare of their animals.

The curriculum series was tested with 35 youth through a partnership with the 4-H Youth Development Program in California. Knowledge, skills, and attitudes were assessed using a retrospective survey tool and the resulting data were analyzed for significant changes over time. As a result of participating in the curriculum activities, youth reported that they had improved their abilities to collect both behavioral and health information and were significantly more likely to incorporate these practices into their daily animal care routines. Youth also reported that they were significantly more likely to consider their animals’ behavioral and physical needs when making decisions about housing and care then they were prior to participating in the program. Adult volunteers who implemented the program with youth also reported improving their knowledge about Animal Welfare concepts and indicated that they would be likely to incorporate the Animal Welfare Proficiencies into future 4-H Animal Science projects.

Providing in-depth and sustained educational experiences is an important strategy for enhancing subject-specific skills and scientific literacy (Smith & Meehan, 2014). The Animal Welfare Proficiency series is currently undergoing peer review with the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Once published*, this curriculum will provide a readily accessible resource with which educators in formal and non-formal settings can explore socially- and scientifically-relevant topics of Animal Welfare with school-age youth.

*For more information, contact Martin H. Smith (mhsmith@ucdavis.edu) or Cheryl L. Meehan (clmeehan@ucdavis.edu).

References

Emily Schoenfelder is the 4-H Youth Development Adviser, and Martin Smith is a Specialist in Cooperative Extension. Steven Worker is a 4-H Youth Development Adviser, and Andrea Ambrose, Director of Development Services. Lynn Schmitt-McQuitty is a 4-H Youth Development Adviser & County Director, and Kelley Brian is the Youth, Families and Communities Adviser. All are a part of the University of California, Agricultural and Natural Resources, 4-H Youth Development Program. In addition, Steven, Martin, and Lynn are members of CSTA.

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

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California Science Teachers Association

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