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There are longstanding disagreements between the rodeo industry stakeholders and animal welfare advocates about the wellbeing of the animals used in events. The current study aims to determine whether qualitative behavioural assessment (QBA) is effective in identifying the emotional state of calves in so-called calf-roping events. Still images of calves captured from videos of calf-roping were shown to two groups: practitioners (n = 7) and students (n = 16). For each image, they scored (on a scale of 1–10) 12 descriptive terms—e.g., stressed, energetic, confused, frightened—based on how strongly they thought the animal was experiencing that emotion. Scores were analysed using Factor Analysis and Ordinal Logistic Regression models, while inter-rater reliability was assessed using Intra-Class Correlation Coefifcients. The same imagery (video and images) were analysed for behaviours associated with the calves’ ears, neck, legs and tail to develop a behavioural ethogram, which was analysed with Binary Logistic Regression and Anova wrapping. The students were also surveyed to assess their empathy towards animals. The chase phase attracted significantly higher scores for stressed (µ = 5.0, p < 0.001), agitated (µ = 5.1, p < 0.001), anxious (µ = 5.0, p < 0.001) and frightened (µ = 5.0, p < 0.001), and the behavioural ethogram revealed that calves commonly galloped (p < 0.001) and held their tails rigidly during this phase (p = 0.010). In contrast, the recovery phase was characterised by significantly higher scores for calm (µ = 3.0, p < 0.001), contented (µ = 2.7, p < 0.001) and relieved (µ = 1.6, p < 0.001), and calves moved slower (p < 0.001) with more neutral ear positions (ears axial p = 0.008, ears forward p = 0.010). A clear pre- and post-rope effect was evident, showing that QBA indicated that calves were anxious while being chased and were relieved when they had been released. The survey data revealed that students who had more empathy for animals in pain and for those used in experiments were more empathetic towards calves during the chase phase. They felt that calves being chased were agitated, anxious, stressed, frightened and confused. These results confirm that QBA has the potential as a tool for assessing the welfare of animals used in rodeos.


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