Saturday , June 25 2022

Finding signs of happiness in chickens can help us understand their captive lives



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When Ruth Harrison's Animal Welfare Campaign published a book in 1964 called Animal Machines, there was a public outcry. Her vivid descriptions of post-war intensive farming began discussions on animal welfare, which led to new guidelines for the protection of animals in the care of humans. This is how the Five Freedoms were born.

They stated that animals should have:

The five freedoms have been used as a way of assessing animal welfare around the world, but they have been criticized for focusing on limiting suffering rather than providing good living conditions for animals. The Animal Welfare Council revised these standards in 2009 and asked a new question that shifted the way we think about animal welfare. Does this animal have a "life worth living?"

It is no longer enough to know if an animal is suffering, we also need to know if it is happy. But in the absence of a big toothy smile or a wagging tail, how do we do this for a chicken?

Those who study animals with long homes with expressive features are at an advantage. We know that dogs are happier when they swing their tail to the right. We know that rats laugh when tickled, and we know what facial expressions mice, rats, rabbits, horses, and sheep pull when they do not experience pain. But we still don't have a positive marker for chickens – and we need one.

Game and happiness

In fact, there are two types of chickens used in agriculture today – broiler chickens that are raised for meat and laying hens that produce eggs. There is a huge demand for chicken meat and it will soon top the list as the most consumed meat in the world. In the UK alone, over a billion broilers were slaughtered in 2018.

There are many ways to tell if a chicken is suffering. But in order to create a truly positive environment for broiler chickens, researchers need to find ways to measure their content.

Determining game behavior in farm animals is a useful way of monitoring their well-being, although this is a disturbing exercise for scientists. The game of animals varies greatly between species. Most of the time the game is losing valuable energy and must still be linked to future benefits. Animals do not appear to play when food is restricted or injured or scared.

The game also seems self-contained – the animals play because it feels good, which is why we believe that the game is associated with positive emotions. In children, lack of play is one of the main symptoms of depression.

The game-like behavior of poultry was first described in the 1950s and 1960s, with researchers writing detailed stories about "sparring", "stirring" and "feeding" in young birds. In subsequent years, they were renamed as "aggression" or "jogging." This is probably due to the general reluctance among scientists to attribute emotion or awareness to birds. But this behavior fits in with well-established definitions of game animals, and their presence in modern broilers may just be the marker of happiness we seek.

Improving the life of livestock

Both sparring and gurgling are easy to spot when you go down to the chicken shed. A tide of white bodies moves to fill the empty space you have made behind you. They run wild, flap their wings and quickly change direction. It's infectious, and once you get started, they are all bombarded by noise from meaningless movements.

Sometimes they bump into one another and take a step back, rising and facing with feathers raised on their necks and their beaks almost touching. They don't actually land hits, everything is bluffing and easily distracted by other birds or the type of feeders.

Frolicking has all the hallmarks of a pivot game, which is another word when animals jump or run for no reason. There are stories of this type of game in many animals, including pigs, seals, monkeys, calves and wolves. Sparring also looks like an adolescent form of adult fighting or a chicken and rough version.

Eating food is a strange behavior similar to playing social objects, which is when playing with another animal involves an object, such as a tractor. It's called "running with food" because the chicks will take an object that is usually shaped like a wand or worm, sometimes a pen lid that I was too slow to save, and run around with it until other birds chase. The object moves between the groups until the group loses interest.

Initially, it was thought that they were only chickens trying to prevent another bird from eating whatever they found, but the chickens would feed even when raised in complete isolation. They also make distinctive noises when they receive the subject, which is not a good way to hide something tasty.

Hunger does not seem to be related to food delivery, and they do so even with constant access to food and when given obvious non-food items. If broilers do this, it can be a good sign that everyone else's needs are met and they use energy to play.

Broiler behaviors have changed a lot since being farmed and raised for meat production. Although not a chicken version of a wagging tail, these game behaviors can tell us a lot about their emotional state and could help researchers design an environment that gives them a life worth living.

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