Improving Animal Welfare: A Practical Approach (2nd Edition)

Edited by Dr. Temple Grandin
Colorado State University, USA

ISBN: 978-1-78064-467-7
c. 368 pages
131 figures/illustrations

Subject Classifcation: KNAC, PSVP, TVH, TW
Territorial Market Rights: World
Published by CABI

Links for ordering:


Chapter 8: Animal well-being and behavioral needs on the farm.

by Lilly N. Edwards, Welfare Specialist, JBS, Greeley, Colorado, USA

One of the main points in this chapter is that animals really do have mental states and emotions. It will make the reader really think about many welfare issues. There is also an extensive discussion of different types of abnormal animal behaviors and methods to measure an animal's behavioral needs. For a review of the scientific research on behavioral needs, the reader can refer to chapter 12 by Tina Widowski, from the University of Guelph in Canada. She discusses how behavioral needs can be scientifically measured.

Below is an excerpt from Chapter 8...

Abnormal Displacement Behaviors and Stereotypies

When an animal’s ability to perform these highly motivated behaviors, such as dust bathing, foraging or nesting, is thwarted, they may begin to develop displacement behaviors, for example bar biting, pacing, rocking, self-narcotizing behavior, increased aggression, etc. (Box 8.3). Some of these behaviors are stereotypies. A stereotypy is defined as a repetitive behavior that repeats itself in a pattern that seldom changes and it serves no obvious purpose (Mason et al., 2007; Price, 2008). The development of these repetitive, non-goal-oriented behaviors is a mechanism for the animal to cope with the frustration of not being able to perform certain innate behaviors. Continuing with the food-seeking example, consider a bear in a zoo that rocks back and forth in one area of her pen prior to feeding time. In a zoo the bear does not have to search for her food, she gets fed at a particular time each day. This rocking behavior has taken the place of long hours of food searching in the wild. Sows in gestation crates sometimes exhibit bar biting (Fig. 8.2) shortly before being fed, perhaps a reaction to the inability to food search and root, innate motivated behaviors (Lawrence and Terlouw, 1993; Day et al., 1995).

Straw has been proposed by many as a substrate to provide to multiple livestock species to enrich their environments and provide them with the opportunity to exhibit species-specific behavior. Tuyttens (2005) has provided a comprehensive review of the use of straw to improve welfare in pigs and cattle. Rodenburg and Turner (2012) and Grandin and Deesing (2014) discuss genetic influences on abnormal behavior. Animals that are bred to be highly productive have to eat large amounts of food to support high production. This may explain why abnormal behavior often involves the mouth.

Some animals may be self-medicating, filling a behavioral need with a maladaptive behavior. It has been demonstrated that the performance of stereotypical behaviors is related to the release of endorphins, providing the animal with some relief from the stressful environment (Cronin et al., 1986; Dantzer, 1986). Supporting this concept of stereotypical behavior as a medication is the finding that when anti-addictive pharmacological agents such as nalmefene are given to horses, pigs and mice that perform stereotypies, the stereotypies stop (Cabib et al., 1984; Cronin et al., 1985; Dodman et al., 1988). Animals develop these stereotypical behaviors as a means of coping with a barren environment, an indication that their environment needs to be improved. Animal behavior can be used as an indicator of an animal’s state of well-being (Duncan, 1998).

Behavioral Indicators of Poor Welfare

When animals are observed in confinement captivity, some of these stereotypical and displacement behaviors are often seen: a chicken performing dust-bathing behaviors with no dust; a sow in a gestation crate bar biting; a chained-up dog licking its paw repetitively; a zoo jaguar pacing the perimeter of its cage. An animal’s need to express certain behaviors (e.g. dust bathing, nesting, foraging, locomotion, social interaction, seeking, etc.) is blocked in some confinement livestock production systems. This causes potential problems with animal welfare. The agricultural industry has created some housing systems in which animals are not able to behave naturally. Their drive to perform natural behaviors is thwarted and as a result they develop a higher level of frustration in their housing, manifested in various ways but particularly in their expression of behavior. Producers can economically raise livestock and poultry in intensive confinement systems. The question is: should we raise them this way? (Bernard Rollin, personal communication, 2008). Chapter 3 by Bernard Rollin provides a further discussion of the ethics of intensive confinement systems. The animals are never going to be able to ‘tell’ us how they feel and therefore we must try to understand them in a different manner (i.e. through their behavior). Some people may still fear making assumptions about an animal’s well-being through its actions (even though they most likely do this on a daily basis with fellow humans). But, as one researcher profoundly stated, it is important to be ‘roughly right on something important than to be accurate but wrong or irrelevant’ (Ng, 1995). Animal well-being is that ‘something important.’

Table 8.1. Common stereotypical repetitive abnormal behaviours and other abnormal behaviours. The presence of these abnormal behaviours is an indicator that the animal’s needs are not being fulfilled. Steps should be taken to provide environmental enrichment to prevent these behaviours.
Behavior Species Description of the behavior
Bar biting Sows Animal rhythmically bites or mouths a bar or other object
Tongue rolling Cattle Tongue is extended and rapidly moved back and forth
Feather pecking Layer hens Pecking at another hen that damages feathers or causes injury
Weaving Horses Animal sways back and forth
Cribbing (wind sucking) Horses Upper jaw is placed on a fence and the animal rhythmically bites and sucks wind
Pacing Minks and foxes Animal circles the cage in a pattern that seldom changes
Wool, hair eating Sheep, antelope Pulling wool or hair out of another animal
Belly nosing Pigs Animal roots and rubs its nose on other animals
Non-nutritive sucking Calves Sucking navels or urine
Tail and ear biting Pigs Injures the tail or ears of other animals

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