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Promoting Positive Animal Welfare

Author: Annie Rayner, Research Scientist, FAI Farms

Good animal welfare requires the presence of positive experiences1, as well as the absence of negative experiences. An emerging field of animal welfare science is the promotion and exploration of Positive Welfare.

Promoting Positive Animal Welfare

Historically much of welfare science has focused on negative experiences of animals affecting their welfare. Research questions often contain words such as ‘stress’, ‘pain’ or ‘suffering’2 . Similarly, many frameworks for animal welfare focus on the absence of negative affects. For example, the well known ‘Five Freedoms’ determines four ‘absences’ of negative circumstances, including ‘the absence from pain injury and disease’.

"…what use is there in satisfying an animal’s vital needs, if the life the animal then lives is devoid of any enjoyment?"3

Like animal welfare science, human psychology too has historically focused on poor mental health. Although psychologists have made great progress in understanding and providing therapy for mental illness, there has been little attention to the positive features that make a life worth living. The field of Positive Psychology aims to move the focus from repairing negative qualities to building positive qualities. By studying positive human traits, positive psychologists hope to gain a better understanding in how to build the qualities that help people not only to “endure and survive, but also to flourish” . The same considerations are given in the emerging field of Positive Animal Welfare.

In 2009, the Farm Animal Welfare Council proposed that an animal’s quality of life should be a “Life Worth Living”, and that a “Good Life” went beyond this. Scientists from Bristol, UK have proposed and piloted frameworks for determining whether laying hens have a “Good Life”. David Mellor, a professor in New Zealand, proposed an update to the Five Freedoms, to move towards “A Life Worth Living”. Although positive animal welfare is currently being approached from slightly different angles, two common themes are: positive mental experiences and opportunities to express behaviours that are important to the animal2.

There are existing approaches to animal welfare that incorporate a positive approach. For example, Marian Dawkins, an animal welfare scientist from Oxford University asks two questions of animal welfare – 1) is an animal healthy and 2) does it have what it wants? However, to effectively promote a ‘Good Life’ perhaps we should now be asking – 1) is an animal healthy and 2) does it have what it wants - in order to flourish?

Providing for a Hen to Flourish?

Bristol’s Positive Welfare/Good Life framework explores the resources required to provide for FAWC’s ‘good life opportunities’ of Comfort, Pleasure, Confidence, Interest and a Healthy life. The framework explores the legal minimum, the recommendation within codes and three levels above these levels (Welfare +, Welfare ++ and Welfare +++).

Opportunities for Pleasure:
“Birds should be able to experience positive emotional states through cognitive enrichment”.

The legal minimum: Provision of 250cm2 littered area per hen to allow for some form of ‘cognitive enrichment’.
The UK codes of practice: Specifies that the litter should be maintained in a friable condition and is at least 10cm deep.
Welfare +: Provision of complex structures that stimulate investigation, and changing these weekly, for example branches or log piles.
Welfare ++ : Provision of more than one type of complex structure
Welfare +++: Provision of feeding devices or tasks.

Foraging is a behavioural need for chickens that will not reduce when feed is available hens will work for food rather than accept free food . Hens are therefore strongly motivated to express foraging behaviour. Providing extensive, variable opportunities to express this strongly motivated behaviour increases opportunities for birds to experience pleasure, contributing to a Good Life.

As well as foraging, hens are highly motivated to perform a variety of behaviours such as perching, nesting and dustbathing. Bristol’s Good life framework comprehensively outlines the provision of varied and extensive opportunities for the expression of all these behaviours, alongside the day to day promotion of good health. The Good Life framework therefore outlines what is required for a healthy bird to have what it wants, and how to go beyond this - to provide for a hen to flourish.

1DJ Mellor (2012) Animal emotions, behaviour and the promotion of positive welfare states, New Zealand Veterinary Journal, 60:1, 1-8, DOI: 10.1080/00480169.2011.619047 2A. Lawrence (2017, May) Positive Animal Welfare – How far have we come? Presentation at Animal Welfare Research Network - Measuring positive animal welfare workshop, Edinburgh, UK. 3Yeates, J & Main, DCJ (2008) Assessment of positive welfare: a review Veterinary Journal 175:293-300 4Seligman, M. & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000) Positive psychology: an introduction American Psychology 55:5-14 5Edgar, J.L.; Mullan, S.M.; Pritchard, J.C.; McFarlane, U.J.C.; Main, D.C.J. (2013) Towards a ‘Good Life’ for Farm Animals: Development of a Resource Tier Framework to Achieve Positive Welfare for Laying Hens. Animals  3, 584-605. 6Mellor, D.J. (2016) Updating Animal Welfare Thinking: Moving beyond the “Five Freedoms” towards “A Life Worth Living” Animals 2016 6(3), 21; doi:10.3390/ani6030021 7Dawkins, M. (2008) The Science of Animal Suffering. Ethology 114:937-946 8Weeks, C & Nicol, C. (2006) Behavioural needs, priorities and preferences of laying hens. World Poultry Science Journal 62:296-307 9Duncan, I. and HUGHES, B (1972) Free and operant feeding in domestic fowl. Animal Behaviour 20: 775-777