For the first time, a study by Scotland’s Rural College will explore whether social competence can be passed on from one generation to the next, in an attempt to improve animal welfare.
The research, which will be carried out in collaboration with the School of Biological Sciences at Queen’s University Belfast and the Pig Improvement Company, will focus on pigs, which have complex social lives involving a range of positive and negative forms of interaction social.
Negative forms of interaction can reduce welfare and economic productivity, as well as increasing the environmental footprint, as animals use energy from food to fuel undesirable behaviors. However, little is known about how positive forms of interaction – such as social play and grooming – benefit their well-being.
The researchers say the project will be a major step towards understanding these benefits by exploring how decisions made in a wide range of social situations relevant to modern agricultural environments combine to influence overall well-being.
It will test how social competence is influenced by the social environment that animals experience early in life and by the complexity of the physical environment.
Researchers will also examine whether choosing socially competent animals to be the parents of the next generation will simultaneously benefit their productivity as well as their welfare.
“This will be the first study to apply the idea of global social competence to improve animal welfare,” says lead researcher Simon Turner. “As positive social behaviors are likely to be crucial for social competence, this will increase our understanding of how positive forms of social interaction benefit well-being. We will also investigate for the first time whether it is possible to increase the expression of these positive behaviors thanks to a choice of the animals to raise.
“Our goal is to benefit animal welfare while helping farmers produce animals that are profitable for their business and need less food to grow well, thereby improving the environmental footprint of farming. Pigs and other species exhibit social behaviors that are difficult to improve upon when we view these behaviors as isolated phenomena.We expect that by taking a higher-level approach, we can favor animals that have the social skills needed to navigate a wide range of social situations.
Although the project focuses on pigs, the results of the research, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Pig Improvement Company, are expected to be relevant to a wide range of species. .
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