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Assessing the importance of natural behaviour for animal welfare. (Animals and their welfare)

By M. B. M. Bracke, H. Hopster

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The concept of natural behaviour is a key element in current Dutch policy-making on animal welfare. It emphasizes that animals need positive experiences in addition to minimized suffering. This paper interprets the concept of natural behaviour in the context of the scientific framework for welfare assessment. Natural behaviour may be defined as behaviour that animals have a tendency to exhibit under natural conditions because these behaviours are pleasurable and promote biological functioning. Animal welfare is the quality of life as perceived by the animal. Animals have evolved cognitive-emotional systems ("welfare needs") to deal with a variable environment. Animals do not only have so-called physiological needs such as the need for food, water, and thermal comfort. They also need to exercise certain natural behaviours such as rooting or nest-building in pigs, and scratching or dust-bathing in poultry. All needs must be taken into account in order to assess overall welfare. The degree of need satisfaction and frustration can be assessed from scientific information about the intensity, duration, and incidence of (welfare) performance criteria such as measurements of behaviour and/or (patho)physiology. Positive welfare value relates to how animals are inclined to behave under natural conditions, in preference tests, and in consumer-demand studies. Negative welfare value relates to stress, frustration, abnormal behaviour, aggression, and reduced fitness. Examples are given to illustrate how the need to perform natural behaviours can be assessed following the general principles for welfare assessment, providing a first approximation of how different natural behaviours affect animal welfare.

Date 2006
Publication Title Journal of Agricultural & Environmental Ethics
Volume 19
Issue 1
Pages 77-89
ISBN/ISSN 1187-7863
DOI 10.1007/s10806-005-4493-7
Language English
Author Address Animal Sciences Group, Division Animal Resources Development, Wageningen University and Research Centre, P.O. Box 65, 8200 AB Lelystad, Netherlands.
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animal rights
  3. Animal welfare
  4. Behavior and behavior mechanisms
  5. Denmark
  6. Developed countries
  7. Europe
  8. Laws and regulations
  9. OECD countries
  10. peer-reviewed
  11. Policy and Planning
  12. Scandinavia
  1. peer-reviewed