Can Farmed Animals Contribute To Welfare Design? A Case Study With Hens
Every form of animal agriculture, whether it is factory farming or smaller scale operations, involves managing a balance between animal welfare and economic productivity. How (and in some cases “if”) to provide animals in agriculture with improved welfare prior to and during slaughter is a subject of debate among animal advocates, farmers, and the general public. Absent from the discussion, however, are the actual thoughts of the animals, though they may be represented by animal advocates. The animal behavior science (ethology) field is already large and continuing to grow. Many of these scientists try to articulate what animals think, feel, and desire, seeking to help them live their best lives.
However, knowledge derived from ethological research is rarely integrated into agricultural practice, at least for the benefit of farmed animals. But for as long as society continues to eat animals, maybe those animals should at least have more of a say in how they’re treated. According to the authors of this study, “allowing the animal to gain control and take care of itself goes beyond the fulfilment of its behavioural and physiological needs by other means, such as humans or technology.” In other words, self-directed welfare by and for animals could potentially go far beyond the things that humans can imagine will makes animals’ lives better.
This study from the Netherlands looks at how agricultural systems can be designed with a feedback loop in place so that “laying hens could actively contribute to the functioning of the system by exercising their own goals.” The goal is to give hens a better life and “contribute to the minimisation of an existing animal welfare related trade-off: the (fine) dust problem in laying hen husbandry.” The researchers here created novel designs for housing units that give hens space to roam, and specific places to enact dust bathing behaviors while also helping to reduce fine dust contamination. If validated, their designs “would give biosystems designers… a tool to guide them in incorporating intrinsically motivated animal behaviour in design.” For animal advocates interested in future directions in farmed animal welfare, this paper offers a novel approach to incorporating the animals’ perspectives.