Systems' welfare evaluation, including behavioural testing, is becoming increasingly popular in farm animal assurance schemes. The aims of this study were to investigate whether fairly short-term exposure to gestation housing systems, which varied in physical, environmental and human-input factors, influenced behavioural and physiological measures during a human approach test - often used to identify problems in human-animal interactions. Twenty-four Large White x Landrace gilts were initially subjected to identical human contact and daily husbandry. Forty-two days after service, the gilts were randomly assigned to either an indoor housing system (n=16) or an outdoor housing system (n=8), which differed physically and in the amount of human contact and daily husbandry. The indoor system used an electronic sow feeder (ESF), was more space-limited and thermally-controlled and had human contact centered on cleaning out. The outdoor system was more extensive, had much greater space accessible, was not thermally-controlled and had human contact that centered around feeding. The human approach test was carried out on all gilts 30-44 days after entry to the gestation system. At testing, each individual was fitted with heart rate monitor and then moved into a test arena. After 2 min an unfamiliar human entered the pen and stood motionless for 3 min against one wall and then approached the gilt and touched her snout. Throughout the experimental period, behaviour and sound within the test arena were recorded continuously. During the 2 min familiarization period, outdoor gilts had lower heart rates (108.2 bpm versus 123.7 bpm, P<0.05) and tended to perform fewer short vocalisations (0.5 calls per min versus 3.4 calls per min, P<0.1). Outdoor-housed gilts also carried out less locomotor behaviour (2.2 sections crossed versus 4.0 sections crossed, P<0.05) and tended to perform fewer short (1.4 calls per min versus 5.0 calls per min, P<0.1) and long vocalisations (0.2 calls per min versus 1.8 calls per min, P<0.1) over the 3 min test period. Outdoor gilts tended to be slower to approach within 0.5 m of the human (69.9 s versus 19.3 s, P<0.1) but they then took less extra time to make physical contact (3.3 s versus 52.7 s, P<0.1). Mean heart rate was significantly lower in outdoor sows over the whole 3 min period (99.5 bpm versus 115.5 bpm, P<0.05). The results demonstrate that short-term exposure to different housing systems did influence behavioural and physiological measures during a standard human approach test and thus, systems differences should be taken into account before making judgements about the human-animal relationship on any commercial farm, based on results of behavioural tests of this type.
|Publication Title||Applied Animal Behaviour Science|
|Author Address||Department of Clinical Veterinary Medicine, Animal Welfare and Human-Animal Interactions Group, University of Cambridge, Madingley Road, Cambridge CB3 0ES, UK. firstname.lastname@example.org|
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