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Captive bolts or firearms are unsuitable for euthanasia of livestock when an intact brain is required for diagnostics. Injectable barbiturates can be used, but this method carries risk of poisoning animals eating the carcase. Intravenous saturated salt solutions have been used to euthanase heavily sedated ruminants and are cheap, readily available and not a risk to scavenging animals. However, there is concern that they may be painful or cause distress to animals that are not unconscious. This study aimed to determine the suitability of saturated salt solutions, in combination with xylazine, as a method of euthanasia of ruminants using a sheep model. Thirty-two sheep were sedated with xylazine (0.4 mg kg-1 IM) and euthanased with an intravenous overdose of pentobarbitone (PENT; n = 10), saturated potassium chloride (KCL; n = 11) or saturated magnesium sulphate (MGS; n = 10). Time until end of rhythmic breathing and cardiac arrest, and movement events were recorded. Conscious perception of pain was evaluated by measuring cortical brain activity by electroencephalography (EEG). There was no evidence of perceived pain or unpleasant sensory experience for any treatment as indicated by P50, P95 and Ptot and so all methods were deemed humane. Time until transient EEG was comparable for all treatments. Time until onset of isoelectric EEG was prolonged for KCL. Animals euthanased with KCL consistently exhibited severe reflex movements during infusion (eg kicking, convulsion). No severe movement events were observed in animals euthanased with MGS, hence, physiological and movement data support the preferential use of MGS over KCL.
Humane slaughter implies that an animal experiences minimal pain and distress before it is killed. Stunning is commonly used to induce insensibility but can lead to variable results or be considered unsatisfactory by some religious groups. Microwave energy can induce insensibility in rats, and high power equipment has recently been developed for sheep and cattle. We examined the effectiveness of different settings for microwave energy delivery, power and duration, to induce insensibility based on electroencephalography (EEG) of anaesthetised cows, using the minimal anaesthesia model. All applications resulted in the appearance of seizure-like complexes in the EEG, a pattern considered incompatible with awareness. Shorter duration of application resulted in more rapid EEG changes, as quickly as 3 s. Higher power resulted in a longer duration of EEG suppression, at least 37 s and up to 162 s. Microwave energy can induce insensibility in cattle based on seizure-like complexes in the EEG.
Timely euthanasia on swine farms can help to reduce the incidence of poor welfare outcomes for compromised pigs (Sus scrofa) when recovery is prolonged or impossible. Timely euthanasia relies upon caretakers’ abilities to identify compromised pigs and administer euthanasia in various environments. To determine appropriate timelines and most common reasons for on-farm euthanasia, an online survey was conducted with members of the United States National Pork Board. Additionally, two focus groups were conducted to investigate barriers and possible solutions associated with timely euthanasia. Clinical signs related to poor locomotion (57.6%), prolapses (47.2%), and hernias (43.5%) were identified by the greatest percentage of respondents who believed immediate euthanasia was warranted, while a greater percentage of respondents believed euthanasia was not warranted for clinical signs related to the integumentary (90.3%), reproductive (75.8%), and respiratory (67.5%) systems. The most common reason for euthanasia was poor body condition in pre-weaned piglets and non-ambulatory or severely weak for both breeding and non-breeding pigs. In the focus groups, two themes were identified when evaluating barriers to euthanasia on-farm, and participants agreed that making timely decisions relies upon several dimensions of risk analysis. An unsupportive farm culture was identified as a critical barrier to timely euthanasia decision-making, suggesting that caretaker characteristics may play a role in the success of any timely euthanasia programme. This present study has highlighted areas for future research and demonstrated the need to extend educational efforts both to swine industry leaders and producers to improve overall animal welfare by ensuring timely euthanasia in swine.
The outdoor range in free-range, egg-production systems contains features that aim to promote the performance of natural behaviours. It is unclear what features of the range laying hens prefer and how these influence hen behaviour. We hypothesised that hens would demonstrate a preference for features of the environment in which their ancestor evolved, such as relatively dense vegetation, within the outdoor range and that the behavioural time budget of hens will differ between distinct environments. Characteristics of the outdoor range in one free-range commercial egg farm were mapped and four distinct environments (‘locations’) were identified based on ground substrate and cover (Wattle Tree, Gum Tree, Bare Earth and Sapling). The number of hens accessing each location and behavioural time budget of these hens was recorded over a three-week period during the southern hemisphere summer (January-February). Hens showed a clear preference for the Wattle Tree and Gum Tree locations; however, a significant interaction between location and time of day suggested that the hens’ preference for different locations changed throughout the day. The most common behaviours displayed by hens were foraging, preening, locomotion, resting and vigilance, and most behaviours were influenced by the interaction between location and time of day. Overall, a wider variety of behaviours were performed in the highly preferred environments, but not all behaviours were performed equally within each environment throughout the day. Understanding what features hens prefer in the outdoor range and how this influences the performance of natural behaviours is important in promoting the welfare of hens in free-range production.
Little is known about the implications of accessing an outdoor range for broiler chicken welfare, particularly in relation to the distance ranged from the shed. Therefore, we monitored individual ranging behaviour of commercial free-range broiler chickens and identified relationships with welfare indicators. The individual ranging behaviour of 305 mixed-sex Ross 308 broiler chickens was tracked on a commercial farm from the second day of range access to slaughter age (from 16 to 42 days of age) by radio frequency identification (RFID) technology. The radio frequency identification antennas were placed at pop-holes and on the range at 2.7 and 11.2 m from the home shed to determine the total number of range visits and the distance ranged from the shed. Chickens were categorised into close-ranging (CR) or distant-ranging (DR) categories based on the frequency of visits less than or greater than 2.7 m from the home shed, respectively. Half of the tracked chickens (n=153) were weighed at 7 days of age, and from 14 days of age their body weight, foot pad dermatitis (FPD), hock burn (HB) and gait scores were assessed weekly. The remaining tracked chickens (n=152) were assessed for fear and stress responses before (12 days of age) and after range access was provided (45 days of age) by quantifying their plasma corticosterone response to capture and 12 min confinement in a transport crate followed by behavioural fear responses to a tonic immobility (TI) test. Distant-ranging chickens could be predicted based on lighter BW at 7 and 14 days of age (P=0.05), that is before range access was first provided. After range access was provided, DR chickens weighed less every week (P=0.001), had better gait scores (P=0.01) and reduced corticosterone response to handling and confinement (P<0.05) compared to CR chickens. Longer and more frequent range visits were correlated with the number of visits further from the shed (P<0.01); hence distant ranging was correlated with the amount of range access, and consequently the relationships between ranging frequency, duration and distance were strong. These relationships indicate that longer, more frequent and greater ranging from the home shed was associated with improved welfare. Further research is required to identify whether these relationships between ranging behaviour and welfare are causal.
Early life experiences can affect social behaviour in later life, but opportunities for socio-behavioural development are often overlooked in current husbandry practices. This experiment investigated the effects of rearing piglets in two-stage group lactation (GL) system from 7 or 14 days of age on piglet aggression at weaning. Three lactation housing treatments were applied to a total of 198 piglets from 30 litters of multiparous sows. All dams farrowed in standard farrowing crates (FCs). Group lactation litters were transferred with their dam at 7 (GL7) or 14 days (GL14) postpartum to GL pens (one pen of five sows at 8.4 m2/sow and one pen of seven sows at 8.1 m2/sow, per GL treatment). Farrowing crate litters remained with their dam in a single litter until weaning. At weaning, 10 to 14 piglets from two unfamiliar litters from the same housing treatment were mixed into pens (n=5 pens/treatment) and their behaviour was continuously recorded for 3.5 h. For each pen, the frequency of aggressive bouts (reciprocal and non-reciprocal aggression lasting <5 s), the frequency and duration of fights (reciprocal aggression lasting ⩾5 s) and bullying events (non-reciprocal aggression lasting ⩾5 s) were recorded, along with whether interactions involved familiar or unfamiliar piglets. Aggressive bouts delivered by FC piglets were approximately 1.5 and 3.0 times more frequent than that delivered by GL7 and GL14 piglets, respectively (40.5, 16.7 and 9.9 bouts/pig, respectively; P<0.05). Fighting was more frequent (1.6, 0.3 and 0.4 fights/pig, respectively; P<0.001) and fights were longer (83, 15 and 32 s fight/pig, respectively; P<0.001) between FC piglets than between GL7 or GL14 piglets. Bullying did not differ between housing treatments (P>0.05). GL7 and GL14 piglets engaged in a similar number of fights with unfamiliar as familiar piglets, but FC piglets had almost three times as many fights with unfamiliar than with familiar piglets (P<0.05). This experiment confirms the benefits of GL housing for pig social development. Further investigation is required to determine whether mixing before 14 days postpartum has implications for other indicators of animal welfare and productivity in a two-stage GL housing system.
Furnished cage housing for laying hens has been introduced in some countries as a ‘welfare-friendly’ alternative to conventional cage systems. Whether this housing system would be acceptable to the public remains unknown. This pilot study aimed to engage the public through online discussions in order to investigate their knowledge, support and perception of laying hen welfare housed in furnished cages. During these discussions, a science-based information statement about furnished cages was introduced. Through a mixed method approach, surveys to assess beliefs and knowledge were administered to participants before and after the online discussion. We qualitatively analysed the online discussion transcripts to determine recurrent themes, and quantitatively measured levels of knowledge and support for furnished cages using pre- and post-forum surveys. Support for the introduction increased from 55% pre-forum to 65% post-forum. Additionally, the participants’ perceived welfare of laying hens in furnished cages and objective knowledge of furnished cages significantly increased after online discussion. These results suggest that engagement with the public combined with the delivery of science-based information may be important factors when considering whether to introduce new farming practices. Trust in industry through transparency and willingness to engage in discussions with the public might also mitigate public concerns.
Loose farrowing pens have been considered as alternatives to crates to enhance sow welfare. A major concern with pen systems is often higher piglet pre-weaning mortality, especially due to crushing by the sow. An optimal management of light and mat surface temperature may promote greater piglet use of the creep, which has been associated with reduced piglet crushing. A total of 108 sows and their piglets were studied in sow welfare and piglet protection pens on a commercial piggery, across two replicates. Sows were randomly assigned to pens arranged within two creep treatments (bright creep: 300 lx v. dark creep: 4 lx), considering mat temperature as a covariate. Twelve sows and their litters in each treatment (24 in total) had their behaviour continuously recorded for 72-h postpartum (pp), and four focal piglets per litter were weighed on the first and third days pp. In situ behaviour observations were performed daily (from 0800 to 1700 h) on all sows and their litters, every 15 min over 72-h pp to record piglet time spent in the creep, latency to enter the creep for the first time, latency for the litter to remain in the creep for at least 10 min, and piglet and sow use of pen areas immediately in front of (A2) and farthest from the creep (A3). Piglets with access to bright creeps spent on average 7.2% more time (P<0.01) in the creeps than piglets in pens with Dark creeps. In addition, for each degree increase in mat temperature, piglets spent on average 2.1% more time (P<0.01) in the creep. Piglets in pens with bright creeps spent less time in A2 (P=0.04) and the least time in A3 (P=0.01). Light or mat temperature did not affect sow use of pen areas or piglet weight gain. Piglets with bright creeps tended (P=0.06) to take longer to enter the creep for the first time after birth, but the latency for 30.0% of the litter to remain clustered for 10 min tended (P=0.08) to be shorter in bright compared to dark creeps. Overall, piglet use of the creep increased with warm mat temperatures and brightness, which should be further investigated as potential strategies to promote piglet safety and reduce crushing in pen farrowing systems.
Laying hens housed in free-range systems have access to an outdoor range, and individual hens within a flock differ in their ranging behaviour. Whether there is a link between ranging and laying hen welfare remains unclear. We analysed the relationships between ranging by individual hens on a commercial free-range layer farm and behavioural, physiological and health measures of animal welfare. We hypothesised that hens that access the range more will be (1) less fearful in general and in response to novelty and humans, (2) have better health in terms of physical body condition and (3) have a reduced physiological stress response to behavioural tests of fear and health assessments than hens that use the range less. Using radio frequency identification tracking across two flocks, we recorded individual hens’ frequency, duration and consistency of ranging. We also assessed how far hens ventured into the range based on three zones: 0 to 2.4, 2.4 to 11.4 or >11.4 m from the shed. We assessed hen welfare using a variety of measures including: tonic immobility, open field, novel object, human approach, and human avoidance (HAV) behavioural tests; stress-induced plasma corticosterone response and faecal glucocorticoid metabolites; live weight, comb colour, and beak, plumage, footpad, and keel bone condition. Range use was positively correlated with plasma corticosterone response, faecal glucocorticoid metabolites, and greater flight distance during HAV. Hens that used the range more, moved towards rather than away from the novel object more often than hens that ranged less. Distance ranged from the shed was significantly associated with comb colour and beak condition, in that hens with darker combs and more intact beaks ranged further. Overall the findings suggest that there is no strong link between outdoor range usage and laying hen welfare. Alternatively, it may be that hens that differed in their ranging behaviour showed few differences in measures of welfare because free-range systems provide hens with adequate choice to cope with their environment. Further research into the relationship between individual range access and welfare is needed to test this possibility.
Confinement housing appears to be at the forefront of concern about farm animal welfare. Although many factors may affect the welfare of commercial laying hens housed in cage and non-cage systems, welfare issues in confinement systems often involve behavioural restrictions, while many welfare issues in more extensive systems involve health and hygiene. Hens require an absolute amount of three-dimensional space in order to be able to perform basic body movements. They may prefer to distance themselves from other birds, but their strength of motivation to do so has not been thoroughly investigated, and preferred inter-individual distances may vary with activity. The relationships between the effects of space and group size on behaviour are not well understood, particularly in large groups where birds may cluster together around resources and at different times of day. There are common risks to hen welfare posed by both cage and non-cage systems such as overcrowding. However, some welfare issues present a greater risk in one system compared to another. When considering space and social environment, the comparison of cage and non-cage systems must take into account the threats to welfare that are specific to each system. Furthermore, this review highlights the importance of the design of the housing system rather than just the housing system per se.
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