August 6, 2008

Animal Behaviour and Welfare: basic principles

Humans have been watching animals since the dawn of time - to hunt then to farm them, and then keep them as companions. But to farm livestock successfully, it soon became apparent to modern man that the art and science of animal husbandry had a large component of animal behaviour and concern for the animal's welfare, which many countries have now built into their laws to respond to society's concern over modern farming methods.

There have been some massive changes in farming over the two decades driven by economics, with fewer but larger farms and where the identity and concern for the individual animal has often been lost. As well as this trend, there are now many more small farms using up land that has not been merged into large units. There are many animals on these "lifestyle" farms and their owners often lack knowledge and experience with livestock.

So the difference between what were once traditionally "companion" animals (e.g. dogs and cats) and "farm" animals is now less clear, as pigs, poultry, lambs and kids are kept as pets in both urban as well as rural environments. The information that is linked from this post is provided in response to these changes, and to help improve the well-being of animals on farms wherever they may be.

Before studying the detailed behaviour of each farm animal species, it’s important to understand some basic principles. Start by studying what animal behaviour is, why it’s important in the 21st century, and who cares. Many groups claim a stake in this, and it’s interesting that the animals’ concerns inevitably come last.

Animals in New Zealand have legal rights under the Animal Welfare Act 1999 so this must be understood, along with how to deal with anthropomorphism and questions about the “rights” of animals. Appreciating the impact of domestication on our modern stock is important, to understand the practical and financial implications of the stress and distress we impact on them.

It is controls on animal's social behaviour which humans regularly under-value in pursuit of profit. The science behind learning and teaching in animals is important, especially if you have to reprogram any to solve problems created by humans. Issues differ at each stage of an animal’s life, so knowing how to analyse and solve animal behaviour problems is the basis of a successful “domestic contract” between humans and animals so it has a win-win outcome.

Click here for a link to Chapter 1 of a series on Animal Behaviour and Welfare, covering species from dogs, to sheep, cattle, donkeys and cats. This introduces the many principles that are referred to in the other chapters now online in Clive Dalton's blogsphere. It is essential reading to understand basic frameworks and concepts used across this unique set of knols.

Other chapters will include (grey chapters are currently under construction):

Basic Principles
Dog Behaviour
Cat Behaviour
Sheep Behaviour
Goat Behaviour

Cattle Behaviour

Deer behaviour

Horse Behaviour

Donkey Behaviour

Pig Behaviour

Poultry Behaviour

Rabbit Behaviour

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