Journal article
Exploration as an indicator of good welfare in beef bulls: An attempt to develop a test for on-farm assessment



Publication Details
Authors:
Schulze Westerath, H.; Laister, S.; Winckler, C.; Knierim, U.
Publication year:
2009
Journal:
Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Pages range:
126-133
Journal acronym:
Appl Anim Behav Sci
Volume number:
116
Start page:
126
End page:
133
ISSN:
0168-1591

Abstract
Exploration appears to be carried out for its own purpose due to being self-rewarding. Furthermore, it increases environmental certainty with the effect of increased predictability and control of the environment. We, therefore, supposed that exploratory behaviour is associated with positive emotions and could be a valuable tool in the assessment of animal welfare from the positive side. Since assessing the level of exploration in daily life is time consuming, the goal of our study was to develop a feasible on-farm test to estimate the daily exploratory level of beef bulls. This was based on the hypothesis that bulls in barren environments (here: pens with fully slatted floors) will explore an unknown object more than those housed under more enriched conditions (here: littered pens). A novel object test at the feed rack over a 1-h period was carried out in 64 groups of fattening bulls on farms in Germany and Austria. In order to evaluate sensitivity of the test half of the barren pens in Germany were slightly enriched after these tests and bulls tested again after 1 week. During the first three quarters of the test hour, significantly more barren-housed bulls were occupied with the objects than animals in littered pens. This was predominantly due to more licking/chewing of the novel object. However, the differences in exploration levels were only slight. Moreover, the test was not sensitive to the slight short-term change in stimulation of the bulls following the simple enrichment. The motivational basis for increased exploration of the novel object by licking or chewing in bulls kept in barren conditions is not clear-cut. While it might reflect that these bulls gain less positive emotions from intrinsic exploration in their daily life, nutritional aspects may also play a role. While further investigations should aim to identify the motivational basis of occupation with the novel object and relate true daily exploration levels to test results, for the on-farm assessment of good animal welfare the test appears not to be promising in its current form. (C) 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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