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Can play time on the farm promote animal health?

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Piglets that play the most, grow the fastest, according to new research released last week.

The finding came as part of a wider investigation into ‘positive animal welfare’ – the notion that happier animals are healthier animals.

According to Alistair Lawrence, chair of animal behaviour and welfare at Scotland’s Rural College, who is leading the research, demonstrating a relationship between animals ‘feeling good’ and ‘being healthy’ would help to show that positive animal welfare is a benefit to both animals and humans.

Funded by the Scottish government, a team of researchers are studying situations where animals appear to experience pleasure. They are examining how this might affect the animal, its group mates and human owners.

One arm of the research is studying play behaviour in pigs, sheep and cattle.

Play behaviour is hard to study because it happens rather infrequently and involves very fast and complex movement. However, modern video software allows this behaviour to be captured and studied in more detail.

The researchers say that play is fascinating not least because it seems so clearly to suggest that animals are enjoying themselves.

The researchers have found the amount of play varies across litters.

They observed a variance of 50 per cent across litters, and 11 per cent between individuals in litters. The researchers also showed that, as the amount of play went up, so did weight gain and therefore overall health.

The team is continuing to look at play and similar behaviours to understand what benefits positive behaviours bring to the animal.

Play suggests that animals are enjoying themselves

Lawrence said: ‘Promoting positive welfare in animals is perhaps rather similar to promoting mental wellbeing in ourselves. It is a slightly different way of thinking about things but the benefits could be significant.’

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