Animal welfare outreach: Roi Mandel about student projects as dissemination initiatives

Roi Mandel, you have launched an innovative project to make students’ work in animal welfare reach a wider audience. Tell us more about the project and how it came about!

The aim of this project is rather straightforward – instead of keeping the knowledge on how to improve animal welfare inside the classroom/academia, we try to share it with the world using short (5-7 min) engaging YouTube videos, created by the students themselves.

The knowledge channelled through these videos concerns not only recently published scientific studies but also “older” studies that have a great potential to improve animal welfare in practice (yet unfortunately keep on failing to find their way to basic animal handler training programs/legislation initiatives and product labelling schemes). To improve the accessibility to these videos, English subtitles are added.

Why is important to share this knowledge? In contrast to common belief, the ability to improve the welfare of animals is rooted in holding relevant and updated knowledge, and acting based on it, and not necessarily by providing the animals with the most modern high-end/expensive farm equipment. To improve animal welfare, an animal handler first needs to know: 1. Why do farm animals behave the way they do (e.g. perception, cognition, social structure and contagion of emotions) 2. How can he/she use this knowledge to adapt the environment and his/her work habits to the needs of the animal. This type of knowledge, for example, could help farmers understand the importance of washing away the urine of a stressed cow before trying to get a naive cow into that area. Unfortunately, much of the knowledge generated by animal welfare scientists concerning these topics does not reach its target audience (animal handlers), and when it does, it is usually in the form of regulations (top-down mechanism), that set the minimum standards (i.e. prevent animal cruelty), and does not explain the rational behind them. The videos created by the students provide the audience with the knowledge of how to achieve better welfare conditions than the minimum required by law.

Is it not the responsibility of the relevant unions/sectors (dairy/meat/eggs) to channel this information to their workers? As long as farm animal training is not mandated by law in the majority of countries around the world (and in the few places where training is mandatory, like in Switzerland, there is no mechanism in place to assure periodical update of the knowledge), and as long as those who profit from these industries are not held responsible for providing this type of knowledge to their employees (or to those from which they buy their ״raw material”, e.g. meat, milk, eggs), this knowledge is bound to stay in the academy, locked by paid subscriptions for scientific journals and by conferences entrance fees. Therefore, instead of adopting the easy solution for everyone “its the farmers responsibility/fault”, this project also aims to encourage the students to take an active role in injecting knowledge into the system, hopefully creating future demand for such knowledge from the farmers themselves.

Instructional video creation is not necessarily part of the average Master student’s professional tool box. How do you prepare students for taking on this challenge?

Apart from sending the students a list of free video editing softwares that I found online, I do not do much. The students learn quickly on their own how to use these softwares using instructional videos on YouTube. They report this part to be rather fun, a bit like a game.

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What advice would you give other teachers who would like to try something like this?

Once the script is ready and approved by you (scientific content), let the students a free hand with regards to how they would like to deliver the material. They are so incredibly creative when given the option. I had students conducting interviews with farmers/scientist, fully animated videos, stop-motion videos, advertisement-like videos, students dressed like a chicken, others like a cow – as long as they deliver the take home message in a rememberable way – do not intervene in the process

For more technical/detailed advice (how to create shared work logs, a video script, pitching the ideas to the class, work meetings and such) please free to contact me at: roi.mandel@mail.huji.ac.il – I’ll be happy to share my experience.

If you want to see some examples of student videos, Roi suggests Cows’ auditory sense , Early detection of pain in cows and Social isolation of horses (by veterinary students at the Hebrew University, Israel) as well as Learning mechanisms, Dominance in goats and Hiding before calving (by 3rd year bachelor students at ETH Zurich, Switzerland).

ChickenStress: Tom Smulders about a new European research training network

Congratulations, Tom Smulders at Newcastle University and your eleven collaborators to the success in getting funding for the ChickenStress training network! These grants are so competitive that getting one is an enormous achievement in itself. And I think this is the first time ever there is one in animal welfare. Please tell us what this network is about!

The network aims to better understand the different factors that affect stress responsivity and stress resilience in laying hens. We go from the assumption that in the end, the stress resilience is based in the brains of the animals, but that the factors that determine this stress resilience are a combination of genetics, early-life experiences, and current (adult) environment. The network therefore aims to better understand how the stress response is regulated in the avian brain, but it also looks at all three factors that affect resilience. We don’t just want to understand what the effects of these different factors are, we also want to know what we can do to improve stress resilience in the future. Hopefully this will lead to new recommendations to the egg industry to improve laying hen welfare, by providing them with the resources to be more resilient to stress-full experiences.

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ChickenStress offers 14 positions for PhD students across the different participating institutions. The opportunity to do research in an internationally competitive research group is of course an important part of doing a PhD, but being a student in a European training network is not only about the individual projects. What is special about the ChickenStress project, why should people apply to this network?

The 14 positions vary widely in the scientific disciplines they represent: from basic neuroscience projects, trying to understand how the stress response is regulated in the forebrain, through more bio-informatics projects, to applied hen behaviour projects. In addition to being trained in these specialist disciplines represented by the different supervisors, who are all international leaders in their fields, the students will all also do a secondment (placement) in another lab in the network and another secondment with an industrial partner. These placements will increase the students’ scientific skill sets and their employability skills more widely. They will also see how their academic research can have real-life implications with real impact. In addition, we will have 4 network-wide events in which the students learn about different aspects of stress regulation, genomics and the interaction between research and industry, as well as present their (interim) results to each other. The aim is that the 14 students, even though they will be based across Europe, form a real cohort, who communicate with each other regularly through electronic means, and contribute significantly to the success of the network as a whole. They will be expected to organize webinars within the network, and to communicate with the public. Anybody interested in applying can still do so before May 15th 2019, by going to our provisional website: www.ncl.ac.uk/cbe/chickenstress.

With a background in poultry welfare research myself, I know how big and complex the issues in this field are. ChickenStress offers an opportunity to tackle some of these questions in a concerted way with quite a lot of resources. May I ask you to be bold and suggest one or two questions where – if successful – ChickenStress can make some real progress?

Hopes are of course always high at the start of such an endeavour, and we all know how slow and twisted the paths from science to application can be. However, I do believe that we are (still) in a crucial time with regards to the changes in housing systems from the old battery cages to whatever the new standard will be. Cage-free egg production seems to be growing very rapidly, with the USA now starting to follow the example of Europe. However, there are still very many unanswered questions about the different cage-free systems. The parts of the network that I think are the most likely to make some real progress when it comes to laying hen welfare, are the projects aimed at understanding the best route from early-life experiences (incubation, hatching, rearing) to adult laying environment. By hopefully making some very concrete recommendations about how hens should be incubated, hatched and reared, so they can cope optimally with the new adult housing environments (e.g. using different levels in multi-tier barns, using the range in free-range systems), I hope that this network will contribute to the successful implementation of these new cage-free production systems, both in terms of animal welfare, and in terms of egg production.

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What does IKEA have to do with animal welfare? Interview with Priya Motupalli

Priya Motupalli, Global Sustainable Sourcing Specialist sure is a cool title for an animal welfare scientist. Tell us what you do at IKEA Food Services AB!

Thanks!  It’s a mouthful, but it’s an incredible position where I get to place animal welfare at the heart of our vision for more sustainable agriculture.  My role is to develop and support the implementation of our sustainable sourcing strategy for the animal products in our range across all of the 52 markets we operate in.

This strategy consists of a set of programmes which covers animal welfare, environmental impact, and public health issues at the farm level.  The first of these species-specific programmes, the better chicken programme, was launched publicly in the beginning of this year.

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What are the principles you apply to your work?

The mission of IKEA is to create a better everyday life for the many people.  I take this to heart in my own work—I’m not interested in good animal welfare or sustainable food production getting stuck in a niche market where only a small segment of the population benefits or has access to it.  My goal is to consistently find a place for animal welfare as a core tenant of more sustainable food systems.  This isn’t simple, as there are documented trade-offs—so I try and focus how animal welfare can connect to environmental or social issues to move the conversation forward, rather than not moving at all.

We also have something called the 7 Food Principles which set the general business direction at IKEA Food—although there is a principle around animal welfare, my favourite one is actually “food is pleasure.”  Consumers are so overloaded now with information on the dos/don’ts of sustainable consumption!  I think part of our job is to ensure that they can pick up something in the Swedish food market, or dine in the Restaurant, or grab something in the bistro and simply feel good about it, without having to panic about where it was sourced, or what the working conditions were like, or how the animals were raised, etc.  Food is such an intimate, enjoyable part of our lives—and making more sustainable or healthier choices shouldn’t be a barrier to this enjoyment!

Of course, providing this experience for our customers is a journey and there is a great saying by our founder, Ingvar Kamprad that “most things remain to be done.”

In which way does animal welfare science get into your job? Do you use actual research data or methods?

Animal welfare science is a critical part of the job—and one of the main reasons I was hired!  Current research forms the backbone of any animal welfare sourcing criteria we create.  However, as the science only tells you what you can do, not necessarily what you should do, our sourcing criteria is also a product of country specific legislation, feedback from NGOs and suppliers, and customer desires.

In addition, data collection and the use of this data to improve animal welfare over time is an integral part of our better chicken programme, and will form an integral part of our other species-specific programmes as well.  Alongside any input criteria we set, we have also identified key welfare outcomes that we will measure with the help of our suppliers and retail partners.  These welfare outcome measures will provide objective information on the quality of life for animals’ specific to our supply chain. In time, we can use this information to establish key areas of improvement and apply targeted interventions.

Our first data-set related to the better chicken programme came in recently and I’m keen to get it to start working for us!

If you are interested in how IKEA works with sustainability in general: https://www.ikea.com/gb/en/this-is-ikea/people-planet/

If you want to learn more about IKEA’s view on animal welfare: https://www.ikea.com/gb/en/doc/general-document/ikea-read-more-about-ikeas-view-on-animal-welfare__1364641255476.pdf

Follow Priya on twitter:@drpriyamots

Coverage of Better Chicken: http://5mpoultry.uberflip.com/i/976632-poultry-digital-may-2018/15?m4=

More broiler catching research

In the beginning of August, I posted about a study with Brazilian broiler catchers. One of the observations in this study was that catchers were aware that catching broilers by their legs was worse for welfare. (On the poster this is expressed as “catching by the back is better”; you can see that if you enlarge the photo).

Interestingly, this view by the catchers is confirmed by  a recently published study from Norway in which two catching methods were compared in two flocks.  Four professional catchers caught a total of 3951 birds and either caught the birds under the abdomen and carried them upright, or by the two legs carrying them upside down. Capturing under the abdomen and carrying upside down resulted in faster loading into crates, more equal and lower crate density and also tended to reduce the number of wing fractures. The study by Kittelsen et al was just published in the journal Animals.

Cultural differences of ethological relevance

(There was dancing at the congress dinner. That’s an unwritten ISAE rule and something I fully support. But it left less time for writing, so this morning I will present a shorter reflection rather than a full resume of the 3rd conference day)

This post is not about how applied ethologists differ depending on where they come from or where they work. They don’t, actually, or at least not much, not in a significant way that I have been able to observe during my 25 years as an ISAE member. The kind of work they do may differ, because that’s in part determined by the local context in which they work. Some aspects of animal use differ indeed very little: laboratory animals are housed and used in similar ways across the world and lameness scoring is unfortunately needed for dairy cows most everywhere. But sometimes differences are huge because the way certain practices work is so different.

Yesterday presented two examples from the area of animal production. The photo below shows Victor Abreu de Lima from São Paulo, Brasil and his poster on broiler catchers and their attitudes to animal welfare.

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Catching broilers at the farm to ship them for slaughter used to be something you got anybody who needed to earn some extra money in to do. When I was a teenager, this was something a local football team could get money for a training camp doing. Obviously, having teenagers who know nothing about chickens and who just want to get out of the dark smelly dusty chicken house as quickly as possible isn’t great for animal welfare, This is at least one of the drivers for replacing manual catching with automatic. But in Brazil the development has gone the other way, and catchers are now professionals who – at least in the case of the company Victor and his colleagues work with – have a proper work contract and are trained in how to perform their task. And as you can see from the poster, they know and have a lot to say about the welfare of broilers on the farm and during catching. Whether it’s better for a chicken to be caught by a machine or by a professional handler has not been studied, but it seems quite obvious that professional handlers with this kind of insight makes for better animal welfare than unprepared occasional workers!

The next photo shows Marina von Keyserlingk from British Columbia, Canada presenting work by Jane Stojkov on whether dairy cows sent for auction are actually fit for transport. (The answer is that far too many of them aren’t). This question surprised me, as the only auctions for dairy cows I have experienced are those where a farmer sells their surplus heifers to a farmer who is expanding or improving their herd. But the auction pictured on the photo is one for culled dairy cows intended for slaughter, because that is the route between the dairy farm and the slaughter house in Canada today. And since many cows are culled because of health issues, it is a real problem for animal welfare that these cows need to go through an extra round of transport, housing and showing before they are slaughtered.

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School holiday animal welfare scientists

Every summer, 16 high school students participating in Universidade Júnior at the University of Porto have the opportunity to learn about animal behaviour and welfare – and practice some of their new knowledge in measuring behaviour and welfare. In the Laboratory Animal Science group at i3S – Institute for Research and Innovation in Health, we receive two groups of 8 students who spend a week each with us. Of course, we teach them a lot of theory – we’re scientists after all! – but we try to do it in as playful a way as possible. And there’s plenty of animals.

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There are direct behaviour observations of zebrafish habitat preference, and observations from video recordings of the behaviour of mice and rats during the light and dark period.

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There is a visit to a dairy farm, where the students perform a simplified WelfareQuality assessment and also potentially get some close-up contact with cows.

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And there is a demonstration of dog training as well as a chance to clicker train one’s colleagues.

For our research group, these are two intense but also very rewarding weeks. It is fantastic to be able to share our knowledge and passion for research into animal behaviour and welfare with 16- and 17-year olds who are as interested in animals as we are. We have been doing this since 2014, and of course we hope that some day we will meet a new colleague who once did Universidade Júnior with us!

Thanks to Sara Capas, Andreia Costa, Ana Maria Valentim and Gabriela Morello for the photos.

Agent-based modelling in animal research – interview with Iris Boumans and Eddie Bokkers

Congratulations Iris Boumans and Eddie Bokkers to the publication of two papers in Physiology and Behaviour! These papers present work using a relatively new behaviour research approach. What is Agent-Based Modelling and how is it useful in the study of farm animal behaviour?

Agent-based modelling is a computer simulation method in which agents (representing pigs in our case) are individually programmed to have their own goals and can make their own decisions, within the limits of certain rules. Especially interesting in these simulation is the interaction between agents and the environment, which can affect the decisions agents make. In this way behaviour can emerge that was not programmed on forehand. Due to conflicts at a feeding place, for example, pigs can adapt their feeding behaviour and aggressive interactions might occur. Or a stimulus-poor environment can trigger redirected behaviour in an individual, such as tail biting, which can develop into a large scale tail biting outbreak in a group. These kind of simulations provide us more insight in the underlying mechanisms of pig behaviours, the effect of the environment and pig characteristics on this behaviour, and how this affect the performance and welfare of pigs. This can be very useful in the study of farm animal behaviour to understand how housing and management conditions affect animals and to learn how we can use behaviour as indicator for performance and animal welfare. The advantage of using simulation models such as we did is that many variations of situations can be explored without the need of doing animal experiments.

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In your first paper (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.physbeh.2018.04.032), you present the development of the model, and in the second paper (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.physbeh.2018.03.030) you use it to study feeding patterns, social interactions and growth in pigs. Tell us more about what you actually did and what you found!

Large variation in feeding behaviour can be observed among pigs: some have large meals where others ‘nibble’ more, some eat fast where others eat slow, and some eat more in the morning where others eat more in the afternoon. What is causing this variation, and what can it tell about the performance of the animals? The aim of our studies was to understand this variation in feeding behaviour of pigs and the implications of these various feeding patterns for their productivity and welfare. In the first paper we explain how we developed an agent-based model to understand the mechanisms underlying feeding and social interaction behaviour. We used the model to explore the complex interaction between physiological processes (metabolic, hormonal and growth processes) and the social context (social facilitation, competition and behavioural strategies). We found that high levels of competition can be recognised by changing meal-based patterns (e.g. meal frequency), which can either increase or decrease due to varying behavioural strategies of pigs (approach or avoid). Especially increased meal frequency was associated with increased aggression, although both an increased and decreased meal frequency caused problems, such as a reduced feed intake and reduced growth. The group size at which competition levels reduced productivity and welfare could be predicted from the average daily feeding time of pigs. In the second paper we further explored the variation in feeding, social interaction and growth patterns in pigs. In literature, studies found contradicting results on relations between dominance rank of pigs, feeding types (e.g. meal eaters vs. nibblers) and growth patterns. These contradictions can be explained by variation in pig characteristics, such as growth potential and coping style. Model results showed that variation in characteristics among group-housed pigs can benefit animal welfare by reducing aggression at group level, but can also make some pigs more susceptible to competition, such as low-ranking pigs and pigs with a passive coping style. Pigs that are socially constrained in a competitive situation can be identified by a changed 24 hour feeding pattern with reduced feed intake in the morning.

This is quite a new approach, and so knowledge is still rather limited. Is it possible to say something already about the potential practical applications of this work? What is needed before this research can be put to practical use?

Our work shows that feeding patterns can tell us much more about pig welfare and productivity then was thought so far. With currently ongoing technological developments in pig farming, such as automatic feeders and individual recognition, pig behaviours can be monitored individually and real-time on farms. Recognising behavioural signals, preferably at an early stage, can help to prevent problems and improve productivity, health and welfare in pigs. At present, however, interpretation of these behaviours and early detection of deviating behavioural patterns is still challenging due to the large variation within and among individuals. With our model we gained a deeper understanding of variation in feeding behaviour and found feeding patterns that can serve as indicators for reduced growth, aggression and social constraints. We learned, for example, that it is important for these indicators to analyse patterns on individual level and within 24 hours, instead of at group level and daily averages as is currently common. Furthermore, we should not only look at one component of a behaviour, such as feed intake, but also at other components of feeding behaviour, such as feeding time, meal frequency and feeding rate. Changes in feeding behaviour have been associated with several welfare issues, such as health problems and tail biting behaviour. For future studies, it would be interesting to study the relation between feeding patterns.

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