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Welfare by the ear: comparing relative durations and frequencies of ear postures by using an automated tracking system in sheep

By S. Vogeli, B. Wechsler, L. Gygax

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Given the increased interest in animal emotional reactions for assessing welfare, indicators for such reactions are sought. Ear postures and movements have been found to be promising indicators of emotional states in sheep and other animals. The manual recording of ear postures, however, is very time consuming and possibly prone to a degree of inaccuracy due to the subtle and fast nature of ear movements that have to be identified. Therefore, a number of previous studies have analysed the frequency of certain ear postures relative to all ear posture changes rather than measuring the relative duration spent with different ear postures. Here, we present an automated, continuous tracking system that keeps track of small and lightweight marker balls attached to the head and ears of sheep. We measured ear postures and movements when the animals were confronted with three physical stimuli thought to differ in valence (from negative to intermediate to positive). We then compared new ear-posture definitions reflecting the real time spent with certain ear postures during stimulation with previous definitions used for video-based analyses that assessed ear-posture changes in relation to the total number of observed ear postures. In the analysis, we correlated new and previous measures both between and within experimental stimuli using residuals from mixed-effects models. We found that the new and previous definitions of ear postures and movements correlated highly. Given these high correlations and the discussed theoretical and practical advantages of the automated tracking, the new recording system can be recommended highly for assessing reactions in animals that may indicate emotional states.

Publication Title Animal Welfare
Volume 23
Issue 3
Pages 267-274
ISBN/ISSN 0962-7286
Publisher Universities Federation for Animal Welfare
DOI 10.7120/09627286.23.3.267
Language English
Author Address Centre for Proper Housing of Ruminants and Pigs, Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office FSVO, Agroscope, Institute for Livestock Science, Tanikon, CH-8356 Ettenhausen,
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animals
  2. Animal welfare
  3. Automation
  4. Bovidae
  5. Ear
  6. Emotions
  7. Head
  8. Imagery
  9. images
  10. Indicators
  11. Mammals
  12. models
  13. Posture
  14. processing
  15. Research
  16. Ruminants
  17. Sheep
  18. stimulation
  19. ungulates
  20. vertebrates
  21. Wool producing animals