| ANIMAL HUSBANDRY - Deviance, the environment and genetics
What is going on? Chickens are pulling out one another’s feathers, pigs are biting one another’s tails and sheep are chewing one another’s wool! Farmers are mystified. Which is why the Welfare Quality project is looking at these behavioural problems in farm animals.
Some studies have suggested that making straw or other material available to pigs so that they can engage in an alternative oral activity greatly reduces the development of tail biting. This hypothesis now needs to be verified by researchers and further tests carried out to determine which periods are most appropriate for providing the straw. The aim here is to provide farmers with an effective ‘code of conduct’.
The genetic component of tail biting will also be studied closely. Consanguinity is often pronounced among pigs that are generally selected on the basis of productive criteria, in particular growth rate. It is possible that these practices reinforce aberrant behaviour that could be reduced by a better choice of breeding pigs.
Other types of problem could also have a genetic component. For example, an animal may well become excessively timid because it lives in a stressful and noisy environment or the farmer’s management may have been inappropriate. However heredity, (the pig’s genetic background) is also a very influential factor. Therefore, selective breeding could be a way of reducing undesirable behaviour.