Animal welfare and behaviours

animal welfare
Understanding and enhancing animal welfare

Our research exploring the moods and personalities of farm animals is being seen as an opportunity to better understand and enhance their welfare. This study looks at how animals respond in new and different situations and is helping expand the knowledge of livestock behaviour, at a time of growing consumer demand for strong welfare standards.

The work is being supported by DairyNZ as part of its ongoing focus on enhancing animal care for cows. Because we cannot directly measure how individual animals are feeling, we need to find indirect measures. Once we have those measures, we can use them to better understand how personality also contributes to an animal’s welfare. It is important that these measures can distinguish between different personalities in a range of situations, where animals are feeling either positive or negative.


Animal Welfare
Measuring reactions to positive and negative scenarios

The first farm animals being studied are goats, as they are easy to work with, adaptable to human contact and there is good evidence for what goats find positive and negative. In the research, we created a positive situation, which for goats is access to large leafy branches, while in contrast the negative situation was exposure to simulated rain. Immediately following these positive or negative experiences, we tested the goats’ responses to different scenarios, including an object that is new to them.

During these scenarios, the scientists collected detailed measurements of the goats’ responses, such as heart rate, slow-motion video of facial expressions, and changes in temperature of different body regions with an infra-red camera. We predicted that individual goats would change their response to the scenarios depending on whether they were feeling positive or negative, but that each goat’s response would also be in a manner consistent with their personality. So, for example, a goat that has just experienced the rain (negative situation) might be more reluctant to approach a new object, but certain goats will always be bolder than others.

Publishing our results will provide a stepping stone towards understanding and measuring both the personality and mood of individual animals. This can then be used to compare how animals experience different farming situations and to improve the design of production systems. We have already seen impact through our development of the Gumboot Score, which farmers now use to assess the welfare of their animals sleeping on wet areas.

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