Skip to main content Accessibility help

Relationships between handling, behaviour and stress in lambs at abattoirs

  • P. H. Hemsworth (a1), M. Rice (a1), S. Borg (a1), L. E. Edwards (a1), E. N. Ponnampalam (a2) and G. J. Coleman (a1)...


There is community concern about the treatment of farm animals post-farm gate, particularly animal transport and slaughter. Relationships between lamb behavioural and physiological variables on farm, stockperson, dog and lamb behavioural variables pre-slaughter and plasma cortisol, glucose and lactate in lambs post-slaughter were studied in 400 lambs. The lambs were observed in three behavioural tests, novel arena, flight distance to a human and temperament tests, before transport for slaughter. Closed-circuit television video footage was used to record stockperson, dog and lamb behaviour immediately before slaughter. Blood samples for cortisol, glucose and lactate analyses were collected on farm following the three behavioural tests and immediately post-slaughter. The regression models that best predicted plasma cortisol, glucose and lactate concentrations post-slaughter included a mixture of stockperson and dog behavioural variables as well as lamb variables both on-farm and pre-slaughter. These regression models accounted for 33%, 34% and 44% of the variance in plasma cortisol, glucose and lactate concentrations post-slaughter, respectively. Some of the stockperson and dog behaviours pre-slaughter that were predictive of the stress and metabolic variables post-slaughter included the duration of negative stockperson behaviours such as fast locomotion and lifting/pulling lambs, and the duration of dog behaviours such as lunging and barking at the lamb, while some of the predictive lamb behaviour variables included the durations of jumping and fleeing. Some of the physiological and behavioural responses to the behavioural tests on farm were also predictive of the stress and metabolic variables post-slaughter. These relationships support the well-demonstrated effect of handling on fear and stress responses in livestock, and although not direct evidence of causal relationships, highlight the potential benefits of training stockpeople to reduce fear and stress in sheep at abattoirs.


Corresponding author


Hide All
Australian Meat Industry Council 2009. Industry animal welfare standards – livestock processing establishments, 2nd edition. Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) Ltd, Crows Nest, NSW, Australia.
Beausoleil, NJ, Stafford, KJ and Mellor, DJ 2005. Sheep show more aversion to a dog than to a human in an arena test. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 91, 219232.
Boissy, A, Fisher, AD, Bouix, J, Hinch, GN and Le Neindre, P 2005a. Genetics of fear in ruminant livestock. Livestock Production Science 93, 2332.
Boissy, A, Bouix, J, Orgeur, P, Poindron, P, Bibé, B and Le Neindre, P 2005b. Genetic analysis of emotional reactivity in sheep: effects of the genotypes of the lambs and their dams. Genetic Selection Evolution 37, 387401.
Coleman, GJ, Rice, M and Hemsworth, PH 2012. Human-animal relationships at sheep and cattle abattoirs. Animal Welfare 21, 1521.
de Jonge, J and van Trijp, HCM 2013. Meeting heterogeneity in consumer demand for animal welfare: a reflection on existing knowledge and implications for the meat sector. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 26, 629661.
Deiss, V, Temple, D, Ligout, S, Racine, C, Bouix, J, Terlouw, C and Boissy, A 2009. Can emotional reactivity predict stress responses at slaughter in sheep? Applied Animal Behaviour Science 119, 193202.
Ferguson, DM and Warner, RD 2008. Have we underestimated the effect of pre-slaughter stress on meat quality in ruminants? Meat Science 80, 1219.
Ferguson, DM, Schreurs, NM, Kenyon, PR and Jacob, RH 2014. Balancing consumer and societal requirements for sheep meat production: an Australasian perspective. Meat Science 98, 477483.
Fisher, AD, Niemeyer, DO, Lea, JM, Lee, C, Paull, DR, Reed, MT and Ferguson, DM 2010. The effects of 12, 30, or 48 hours of road transport on the physiological and behavioural responses of sheep. Journal of Animal Science 88, 21442152.
Forkman, B, Boissy, A, Meunier-Salaün, M-C, Canali, E and Jones, RB 2007. A critical review of fear tests used on cattle, pigs, sheep, poultry and horses. Physiology and Behavior 92, 340374.
Grandin, T 2007a. Introduction: effect of consumer requirements, international standards and marketing structure on the handling and transport of livestock poultry. In Livestock handling and transport (ed. T Grandin), pp. 118. CAB International, Oxon, UK.
Grandin, T 2007b. Handling and welfare of livestock in slaughter plants. In Livestock handling and transport (ed. T Grandin), pp. 329354. CAB International, Oxon, UK.
Gruber, SL, Tatum, JD, Engle, TE, Chapman, PL, Belk, KE and Smith, GC 2010. Relationships of behavioural and physiological symptoms of preslaughter stress to beef longissimus muscle tenderness. Journal of Animal Science 88, 11481159.
Hemsworth, PH and Coleman, GJ 2011. Human–livestock interactions: the stockperson and the productivity and welfare of farmed animals, 2nd edition. CAB International, Oxon, UK.
Hemsworth, PH, Rice, M, Karlen, MG, Calleja, L, Barnett, JL, Nash, J and Coleman, GJ 2011. Human- animal interactions at abattoirs: relationships between handling and animal stress in sheep and cattle. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 135, 2433.
Hemsworth, PH, Rice, M, Borg, S, Edwards, LE, Ponnampalam, EN and Coleman, GJ 2016. Relationship between handling, behaviour and stress in lambs at abattoirs. In Animal Production in Australia, Proceedings of 31st Biennial Conference of the Australasian Society of Animal Production, 4–7 July 2016, Glenelg, SA, Australia, p. 79. Retrieved from Accessed 14th September 2018
Kaltas, GA and Chrousos, GP 2007. The neuroendorinology of stress. In Handbook of psychophysiology (ed. JT Cacioppo, LG Tassinary and GG Berntson), pp. 303318. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.
Kuchel, O 1991. Stress and catecholamines. In Stress revisited 1. Neuroendocrinolgy of stress (ed. G Jasmin and M Cantin), pp. 80103. Karger, Basel, Switzerland.
Moberg, GP 2000. Biological response to stress: implications for animal welfare. In Biology of animal stress (ed. JA Mench and G Moberg), pp. 121. CAB International, Oxon, UK.
Murphy PM, Purvis IW, Lindsay DR, Le Neindre P, Orgeur P and Poindron P, 1994. Measures of temperament are highly repeatable in Merino sheep and some are related to maternal behaviour. Proceedings of the Australian Society of Animal Production 20, 247–250.
Pallant, J 2013. SPSS survival manual. McGraw-Hill Education, Milton Keynes, UK.
Ponnampalam, EN, Hopkins, DL, Bruce, H, Li, D, Baldi, G and Bekhit, AE 2017. Causes and contributing factors to ‘dark cutting’ meat: current trends and future directions: a review. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety 16, 400430.
Romeyer, A and Bouissou, MF 1992. Assessment of fear reactions in domestic sheep, and influence of breed and rearing conditions. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 34, 93119.
Rooyackers, OE and Nair, KS 1997. Hormonal regulation of human muscle protein metabolism. Annual Reviews in Nutrition 17, 457485.10.1146/annurev.nutr.17.1.457
Roussel S, Hemsworth PH, Leruste H, White C, DuvauxPonter C, Nowak R and Boissy A, 2006. Repeated transport and isolation during pregnancy in ewes: effects on the reactivity to humans and to their offspring after lambing. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 97, 172–189.
Rice, M, Jongman, EC, Borg, S, Butler, KL and Hemsworth, PH 2016. Characterisation of shy-feeding and feeding lambs in the first week in a feedlot. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 179, 3945.
Sapolsky, RM 2002. Endocrinology of the stress-response. In Behavioral Endocrinology (ed. JB Becker et al.), pp. 409–450. MIT Press Cambridge, MA, USA.
Sapolsky RM, Romero LM, Munck AU 2000 How Do Glucocorticoids Influence Stress Responses? Integrating Permissive, Suppressive, Stimulatory, and Preparative Actions. Endocrine Reviews 21, 55–89.
Savage, RD and Eysenck, HJ 1964. The definition and measurement of emotionality. In Experiments in motivation (ed. HJ Eysenck), pp. 292314. Pergamon Press, Oxford, UK.
Turner, Al, Hemsworth, PH and Tilbrook, AJ 2002. The susceptibility of reproduction in female pigs to impairment by stress and the role of the hypothalamo-pituitary adrenal axis. Reproduction Fertility and Development 14, 377391.
Waiblinger, S, Boivin, X, Pedersen, V, Tosi, M-V, Janczak, AM, Visser, EK and Jones, RB 2006. Assessing the human–animal relationship in farmed species: a critical review. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 101, 185242.
Warner, RD, Greenwood, PL, Pethick, DW and Ferguson, DM 2010. Genetic and environmental effects on meat quality. Meat Science 86, 171183.



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed