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On-farm qualitative behaviour assessment in sheep: repeated measurements across time, and association with physical indicators of flock health and welfare

By C. J. Phythian, E. Michalopoulou, P. J. Cripps, J. S. Duncan, F. Wemelsfelder

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Qualitative Behavioural Assessment (QBA) is a 'whole-animal' methodology that assesses the expressive qualities of animal behaviour using terms such as 'tense', 'relaxed', 'anxious', and 'content'. The reliability and validity of QBA as an indicator for on-farm welfare assessment in pigs, cattle, poultry and sheep has been examined in a number of ways. However, the use of QBA on farms over longer periods of time has not yet been examined. The aim of this study was to investigate whether and how on-farm QBA of sheep varies over the different seasons of the year, and whether it is associated with physical measures of sheep health and welfare such as lameness. A trained assessor visited each of 12 farms six times within a one year period at two month intervals, and made group level assessments of approximately 100 sheep selected ad hoc (assuming homogeneity within the flock). The sheep flocks were assessed with a list of twelve QBA descriptive terms previously developed for sheep. Following QBA, the same sheep were also assessed with seven physical indicators of health and welfare ('dull physical demeanour', lameness, breech and abdominal soiling, pruritis, wool loss, and coughing). QBA scores from all visits were analysed together, and also in combination with the physical measures, with Principal Component Analysis (PCA - correlation matrix, no rotation). The effect of visit on PCA flock scores was analysed with random-effects multiple linear regression models. The association between PCA flock scores and physical measures was investigated using Spearman rank correlation (rS), and the correlation of flock rankings across visits was examined with Kendall Coefficient of Concordance. PCA distinguished two main dimensions of sheep expression: PC1 (47% variation) ranging from content/relaxed/thriving to distressed/dull/dejected (summarised as 'mood') and PC2 (21%), which ranged from anxious/agitated/responsive to relaxed/dejected/dull (summarised as 'responsiveness'). No significant effect of visit on PC1 scores was found ( p=0.155), and PC1 flock scores correlated at W=0.84 ( p

Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 175
Pages 23-31
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2015.11.013
Language English
Author Address Department of Epidemiology and Population Health, University of Liverpool, Leahurst, CH64 7TE,
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animals
  3. Animal welfare
  4. Bovidae
  5. Cattle
  6. Effect
  7. Farms
  8. Flocks
  9. Health
  10. Incidence
  11. Indicators
  12. Lambs
  13. Lameness
  14. Mammals
  15. Mathematics and statistics
  16. Methodologies
  17. models
  18. peer-reviewed
  19. Pigs
  20. Research
  21. Ruminants
  22. seasons
  23. Sheep
  24. Suiformes
  25. Techniques
  26. tests
  27. ungulates
  28. variation
  29. vertebrates
  30. winter
  31. Wool
  1. peer-reviewed