The means by which choice can be engineered into farm animal environments are described, focusing upon intensive systems of husbandry where choices are the most limited. Choice is assumed to be both necessary and desirable.
The principal components of choice are: (i) environmental choice; (ii) nutritional choice; and (iii) social choice. The management of herds rather than individuals and the persistent trend towards increased intensification generally reduces the opportunities for animals to exercise their environmental and social choices. However, extensive systems can also restrict choice and provide an environment that may, in some cases, be equally barren.
Several common problems may make the provision of choice difficult, including variability and precision of individual choices and the conflicts between the interests of individual animals (as distinct from groups) and farmers themselves.
The availability of choice can be improved by modifying existing systems or developing new systems of livestock husbandry. The choice of physical environments may be made by self selection by an individual animal in a heterogeneous environment; active animal control of an environmental modifier, or automatic control with continual monitoring of physiological and behavioural states. The enrichment of barren environments could also embrace artificial stimulation of the senses. Improving the choice of space for its many social and other uses is likely to be difficult given the financial constraints of livestock husbandry. There are few technical difficulties to improving nutritional choices available to livestock, e.g. automated feeding systems which provide multiple rations.