Play behaviour is believed to be a good indicator of animal welfare since it is an indication of the pleasure that animals experience when they are relaxed. There is, however, little information available on play behaviour in animal production systems. The EU-funded project 'The potential of behavioural play markers to improve welfare in farm animals through selection' (SELECTIONFORWELFARE) aimed to address this issue. It was a multidisciplinary endeavour that combined animal behaviour and welfare with genetics, nutrition, immunology, reproduction and physiology. Researchers investigated social, object and locomotor play, all of which are involved in developing social and motor skills. The scientists generated behavioural data from piglets using a video recording system and video tracking software. Several experiments investigated how play behaviour in the first weeks of life influences learning abilities and adaptation to new environments after weaning. One experiment looked at animal growth and health and related it to play behaviour, while another looked at piglet weaning. The experimental outcomes of SELECTIONFORWELFARE will provide researchers with data on whether to include behaviour and welfare traits in livestock breeding objectives. Project insights thus have the potential to result in improved animal welfare and production.
Pigs, play behaviour, animal welfare, behavioural play markers, farm animals