ASAS Midwest Meeting: Animal Behaviour, Housing and Well-being summary

By Chloe Mitchell and Holly Webb, ASAS/ASAP communications interns

ADSA_ASAS_MidW_300The 2016 ASAS Midwest Meeting was held on 15 March 2016 in Des Moines, Iowa. The Animal Behaviour, Housing and Well-being Symposium was host to numerous presentations on the challenges, solutions and innovations for animal well-being.

The first speaker was Simon Turner from Scotland’s Rural College, with a presentation entitled ‘The role of breeding in positive welfare change’. Turner addressed the use of selective breeding for animals more suited to specific housing environments. He highlighted welfare issues that could not be solved by a change in animal management alone due to barriers to change such as economic limitations, extreme environmental conditions and failure of education and training to implement change.

Turner emphasised that “management change and breeding must work together to improve welfare”, using the examples of lamb neonatal survival, foot infections in cattle and sheep, and aggression in pigs.

Ashley DeDecker of the Smithfield Hog Production Division spoke on ‘Implementing animal well-being technologies, U.S. producer perspective’, with a focus on welfare issues with housing in pig production. She emphasised the welfare issues and consumer concerns surrounding the use of sow stalls, and covered alternative systems, highlighting that “how you manage the sow will have a bigger impact than any housing system”.

Angela Green from the Animal Welfare and Environmental Systems Laboratory gave a talk on ‘Engineering solutions to address challenges to animal well-being’. Green gave an engineering perspective of animal welfare, covering examples of engineering solutions to problems in animal industries, such as the use of thermal imaging to study the effects of water misters on alleviating
heat stress during transport of pigs.

“Animal responses are informative in a research setting but most aren’t practical in a commercial setting – advances in technology are overcoming this limitation”, said Green.

Jeffery Bewley presented ‘Opportunities for monitoring and improving animal welfare using precision dairy monitoring technologies’. Precision dairy monitoring has the benefits of early detection, efficiency in management, objective measurements and an improved quality product. Bewley gave an outline of the ideal technology for milk, conformation, behaviour and physiology measurement, including an explanation of an underlying biological process, the ability to be translated into meaningful action, a cost-effective, flexible, robust and reliable product that is solution focused with readily available information.

Additionally, Bewley emphasised that precision dairy monitoring, “takes us away from the idea of just managing a herd or group of animals, and takes us back to the idea of being able to manage individual animals”.

He introduced current available dairy technology for milk and wearable technology for the animal, with the capability for behaviour and physiology monitoring, lying behaviour monitoring, real-time location systems, sleep monitoring and calving detection. Bewley closed by discussing cow group level data and cautioned against comparing across herds.

The final speaker was Liesbeth Bolhius from the Adaptation Physiology Group at Wageningen University, Netherlands. The presentation titled, ‘Improving welfare, health and productivity in pigs by optimizing adaptation’, gave two examples of how to improve welfare in pigs by enhancing adaptation, where adaptation was describe as piglets’ “coping resources” and a challenge as “burden or load”. The balance of challenge and stress an animal is exposed to and the adaptive capacity of the animal itself was a central theme.

“Balance has an effect on health, welfare and productivity”, said Bolhuis.

The first issue focused on the weaning of piglets. The studies presented took inspiration from the gradual weaning process seen in nature where feed exploration starts early and weaning ends at 8-20 weeks of age. Sow-piglet information transfer was highlighted both in utero and after birth. Environmental enrichment for piglets was also explored and shown to decrease food neophobia and increase preweaning weight. Mother and stimulus rich environments promoted the development of foraging and learning how and what to eat. Bolhuis proposed the postweaning environment should be more familiar to piglets to reduce stress.

Bolhuis then discussed the applications of this research where it has been applied on farm with modified farrowing pens and in research projects for group housing during lactation and after weaning. The damaging behaviour of biting in piglets was then investigated.

Bolhuis explained the multifactorial problem, stating it is a “typical example of an animal with too much load”.

The study tried to profile tail biters, however, it was difficult to find an initiator and ‘high tail biters’ were inconsistent. Tail biting started earlier than expected and was more consistent in ‘obsessive tail biters’. Dr. Bolhuis questioned if we can select against the behaviour. However, phenotyping can be costly or laborious and initial tail biters are hard to identify. It was concluded that the ability of piglets to cope with weaning will affect the occurrence of damaging behaviours.

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