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Animal welfare on the Easter Bush Campus

To celebrate World Animal Day we have compiled a number of research stories in this area as well as information about developments in the teaching labs.

The 4th of October is World Animal Day. This story gives an overview of how researchers on the Easter Bush Campus investigate if animals are "happy", healthy, aggressive and how to reduce their pain and anxiety.

Tickling rats for science and animal welfare

Like in humans, good animal welfare means more than simply the absence of negative experiences, such as pain or fear. But how do we assess if animals are "happy"? Researchers observed that during both play and tickling, rats emit ultrasonic vocalisations of a specific frequency that humans cannot hear. These vocalisations are thought to reflect a positive emotional state, originally termed as "laughter", and could potentially indicate when animals are experiencing positive welfare. In the video you can see the reaction of a rat after Tayla Hammond tickles it.



Why piglets play

Researchers have observed that piglets only played when the environmental conditions around them were either good or optimal. How much they played also related to pre-natal factors such as birth weight and body mass index [1, 2].

See video.


Aggresive pigs

Genetics of aggression in pigs

But pigs do not always play. When mixed into new social groups pigs fight to establish dominance.

Researchers found that selection for reduced skin lesions at the front of the body at 24 h post-mixing results is the best selection criterion to reduce aggressiveness at mixing [3]


Chickens with food

Hunger in poultry and pigs

The problem of hunger in feed-restricted broiler breeders and dry, lactating sows has been recognised as a major welfare issue for some years. These animals have high growth potential but must be rationed to be healthy adults.

Researchers are looking for diets which restrict energy to ensure good health without chronic hunger.


Can we monitor rumination remotely as an indicator of cow health?


Rumination in cows - known as chewing the cud - is not only used to assess nutrition, but is also an indication of health and welfare, as cows that are in pain or stressed have reduced rumination activity. Commercial devices can be used to measure rumination activity in cattle remotely.

A study conducted at Langhill dairy farm found that whilst the devices were accurate under housed conditions, they performed poorly when the cows were outside at grass [4]. Until more is known about this and other fundamental questions, caution is required with the application of such devices on farm.


Novel pre-slaughter method reduces chickens’ fear and pain

chicken eating

Researchers have developed a novel pre-slaughter stunning method for chickens, where birds are rendered unconscious. The team examined responses to the method – called low atmospheric pressure stunning (LAPS) - at two temperature settings by recording behaviour, electroencephalogram and electrocardiogram in broilers and interpreted these with regards to welfare impact. The results suggest that with this method chickens do not suffer from avoidable fear, anxiety, pain and distress [5]. This evidence is part of that presented to the European Commission to facilitate the approval of LAPS in the EU.


Veterinary studies on the Easter Bush Campus


The Easter Bush Campus hosts The Roslin Institute, the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and the Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare Education (JMICAWE). Students can learn practical skills in a welfare friendly, low stress environment that optimises learning without compromising animal welfare. Two Clinical Skills Labs are equipped with simulators and models that enable students to learn a range of relevant practical skills. When possible, students learn key skills on a simulator before performing a supervised procedure on a live animal. Talks and discussions on these issues are being held today at the Animal Welfare Day event organised by the SRUC and JMICAWE.

Relevant links

Original Publications

  • [1] S.M. Brown, M. Klaffenbock, I.M. Nevison & A.B. Lawrence (2015). Evidence for litter differences in play behaviour in pre-weaned pigs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 172, 17-25. DOI:
  • [2] J.E. Martin, S. Ison, E. Baxter (2015). The influence of neonatal environment on piglet play behaviour and post-weaning social and cognitive development. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 163, 69-79. DOI:
  • [3] S. Desire, S. P. Turner, R. B. D'Eath, A. B. Doeschl-Wilson, C. R. G. Lewis, R. Roehe (2016) Prediction of reduction in aggressive behaviour of growing pigs using skin lesion traits as selection criteria. Animal Volume 10, Issue 8, p 1243-1253. DOI:
  • [4] V. Ambriz-Vilchis, N.S. Jessop, R.H. Fawcett, D.J. Shaw, A.I. Macrae (2015) Comparison of rumination activity measured using rumination collars against direct visual observations and analysis of video recordings of dairy cows in commercial farm environments. Journal of Dairy Science 98, Issue 3, p 1750–1758. DOI:
  • [5] J.E. Martin, K. Christensen, Y. Vizzier-Thaxton, M. A. Mitchell, D.E.F. McKeegan (2016) Behavioural, brain and cardiac responses to hypobaric hypoxia in broiler chickens. Physiology & Behavior 163, p 25-36. DOI: