Some of the most difficult issues in animal welfare deal with the behaviour of the animals. Unfortunately, the traditional training of veterinarians and animal scientists has not involved training in the science of animal behaviour, or ethology as it is sometimes called. While animal behaviour and animal welfare are not the same, as is sometimes mistakenly assumed, the study of farm animal behaviour has made major contributions to identifying and helping to solve some of the key problems in the welfare of farm animals, including cattle. Knowledge and observations of animal behaviour can both help to establish input-based welfare criteria and also serve as outcome-based criteria for animal welfare (see Chapter1).
To establish input-based criteria, tests based on animal behaviour can help us identify the types of housing and handling routines that are most likely to affect animal welfare. For example, the degree that various handling procedures are painful or frightening to animals can be assessed most directly by examining the animal’s aversion towards them. A simple way of assessing alternative designs for housing animals is to allow the animals to choose between them. Knowledge of farm animal behaviour can provide information on how to design housing environments so as to provide opportunities for the animal to behave in ways that are important to it. The study of animal behaviour can help determine animals’ needs, and so serve as the basis for input-based criteria for animal welfare. In addition, the occurrence of some behaviour patterns can serve as outcome- or animal-based indicators of welfare. This is most obvious for behavioural signs of pain or fear. In addition, farm animals in modern housing systems occasionally behave in ways that appear to be abnormal, and the performance of such behaviours has been proposed to indicate poor welfare.
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