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Social networks and welfare in future animal management

By P. Koene, B. Ipema

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It may become advantageous to keep human-managed animals in the social network groups to which they have adapted. Data concerning the social networks of farm animal species and their ancestors are scarce but essential to establishing the importance of a natural social network for farmed animal species. Social Network Analysis (SNA) facilitates the characterization of social networking at group, subgroup and individual levels. SNA is currently used for modeling the social behavior and management of wild animals and social welfare of zoo animals. It has been recognized for use with farm animals but has yet to be applied for management purposes. Currently, the main focus is on cattle, because in large groups (poultry), recording of individuals is expensive and the existence of social networks is uncertain due to on-farm restrictions. However, in many cases, a stable social network might be important to individual animal fitness, survival and welfare. For instance, when laying hens are not too densely housed, simple networks may be established. We describe here small social networks in horses, brown bears, laying hens and veal calves to illustrate the importance of measuring social networks among animals managed by humans. Emphasis is placed on the automatic measurement of identity, location, nearest neighbors and nearest neighbor distance for management purposes. It is concluded that social networks are important to the welfare of human-managed animal species and that welfare management based on automatic recordings will become available in the near future.

Publication Title Animals
Volume 4
Issue 1
Pages 93-118
ISBN/ISSN 2076-2615
Language English
Author Address Department of Animal Welfare, Wageningen UR Livestock Research, P.O. Box 65, 8200 AB Lelystad,
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animals
  3. Animal welfare
  4. Bears
  5. Birds
  6. Bovidae
  7. Calves
  8. Carnivores
  9. Cattle
  10. Domestic animals
  11. Fowls
  12. Hens
  13. Horses
  14. Livestock
  15. Mammals
  16. peer-reviewed
  17. Poultry
  18. Ruminants
  19. Social behavior
  20. ungulates
  21. vertebrates
  22. Wild animals
  23. Zoo and captive wild animals
  1. peer-reviewed