Environmental enrichment and practical applications for welfare in production agriculture
Environmental enrichment refers to stimuli that are added to an animal’s environment in an attempt to improve biological functioning and animal welfare by increasing the complexity of the environment and providing opportunities for the animal to perform species-appropriate activities. Enrichments are often provided to help decrease or alleviate performance of abnormal behaviour patterns that are often found in barren and static environments. Enrichments can be divided into four categories: foraging opportunities, structural complexity, sensory stimulation/novelty and social stimulation from conspecifics or humans. However, different species have different behavioural requirements and therefore may benefit from different types of enrichment. To summarize the research that has been conducted on environmental enrichment, tables have been created for some of the more common production species, which give examples of enrichments that can be used and the potential benefits and costs found from implementing them. In general, most species seem to benefit from the provision of a foraging substrate/bedding, places to hide/dividers/platforms and access to conspecifics. However, most enrichment studies are performed on a much smaller scale than normally found in production environments; therefore the full benefits and costs of the enrichment may not yet be known. Practically, enrichments should improve animal welfare and satisfy behavioural needs while being inexpensive, available and easy to maintain for the producer. The development of improved welfare brands that require certain enrichment items should help improve the lives of production animals and help guide producers on the environmental enrichments to provide for their animals.
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