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Wageningen to Study Behaviour for Better Welfare

by 5m Editor
25 September 2009, at 10:26am

NETHERLANDS - Wageningen University, together with other partners, has received funding for three projects that will investigate the effect of social interactions in pigs and hens with the view to improving the welfare of these animals kept in groups.

Social interactions have a large impact when animals are kept in groups. The social environment will likely have an even greater impact in the future because group sizes are increasing and treatments such as beak trimming and tail docking will probably be banned. Breeding programmes and rearing conditions will have to be modified in order to limit the risk of certain forms of damaging behaviour and to promote pro-social behaviour. The Animal Breeding and Genomics Centre (ABGC), together with the Adaptation Physiology Group and other partners, has received funding from the STW, the NWO-ALW and the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (Research programme 'Value of Animal Welfare') for three projects which will investigate the effect of social interactions in pigs and poultry.

Wageningen University and Research Centre is joining forces with partners to develop methods that will not only lead to an improvement in animal welfare, but will also be accepted by the various stakeholders including producers, consumers and animal welfare organisations. The project 'Genetics of social interactions in livestock: Improving health, welfare and productivity in laying hens and pigs' is funded by the STW and will be carried out in cooperation with Hendrix Genetics and the Institute of Pig Genetics (IPG). This project aims to increase our understanding of the inheritance of socially affected traits, which will facilitate balanced genetic improvement in commercial populations of laying hens and pigs.

The NWO-ALW and the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality have funded the projects 'Preventing feather pecking in laying hens: from principle to practice' and 'Seeking Sociable Swine'. The aim of the first project is to study whether early predictors of feather pecking can be identified and to investigate the effects of rearing environment on feather pecking in commercial rearing flocks. This project is being conducted in cooperation with the University of Groningen, Utrecht University, Wageningen UR Livestock Research in Lelystad and Ter Heerdt BV.

The aim of the second project is to improve social interactions among pigs by incorporating social genetic effects in the breeding programme and by investigating the implications of this novel selection method for behaviour and welfare. This project is being conducted in cooperation with Wageningen UR Livestock Research in Lelystad, VU University Amsterdam and the Institute of Pig Genetics (IPG).