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Animal Science

College staff involved within the animal science theme have undertaken work in a variety of contexts including applied animal behaviour, biodiversity and animal conservation. 

Askham Bryan as a College has significant animal science resources that are deployed to service the applied research projects. 

These include, a brand-new purpose-built animal science centre, one of the most significant and extensive college or university-based animal collections (Zoo licensed) in the country, extensive dog kennelling and behaviour training areas, an ongoing relationship with a number of large animal collections across the north of England as well as extensive well-equipped laboratories.

Current Research

Loni Loftus, Grace Bell, Andrew Henworth, Emily Padmore, Samantha Atkinson and Mark Hoyle. (Completed project)

The effect of two different farrowing systems on sow behaviour, and piglet behaviour, mortality and growth

Farrowing crates have traditionally been used to reduce occurrence of piglet mortality as a result of sow crushing. However the utilisation of traditional farrowing crates has been suggested to contribute to negative welfare for both the sow and piglets.

This study compared mortality rates, weight gain and behaviour of two cohorts, Freedom Farrowing (FF) and Traditional Farrowing (TF), of sows at a commercial farm.

Results indicated no significant difference in mortality rates (2-sample t-test, t24 = −0.08, p = 0.761) between systems or in weight gain of piglets (batch 1: 2-sample t-test, t12=−0.01, p = 0.993; batch 2: 2-sample t-test, t12=−0.12, p = 0.904).

Behaviour of sows indicated a number of significant differences between FF and TF cohorts including TF sows spending more time lying down, χ2 (2, N = 24) = 5.69, p = 0.017 and FF sows spending more time nursing their piglets χ2 (1, N = 24) = 6.66, p = 0.01, socialising with their piglets χ2 (2, N = 24) = 12, p = 0.001 and exploring the pen χ2 (2, N = 24) = 6, p = 0.014.

TF piglets spent more time lying away from the sow (lying elsewhere) χ2 (2, N = 24) = 4.78, p = 0.029 and engaging in agonistic behaviours with other piglets χ2 (2, N = 24) = 4.76, p = 0.029, whilst FF piglets spent more time feeding from the sow χ2 (1, N = 24) = 63.18, p < 0.001 and playing with other piglets χ2 (2, N = 24) = 4.37, p = 0.036.

As farmed production animals it is important that management changes to improve welfare consider both economic impacts and effect on production time; the results of this study demonstrate that both mortality rates and weight gain of piglets are comparable between the two systems giving an overall advantage to the implementation of Free Farrowing pens in a pig production environment.

• Atkinson, S., Padmore, E., Bell, G., Henworth, A., Hoyle, M. and Loftus, L. 2020. A cost, impact and efficiency investigation into the effect of two different farrowing systems on sow and piglet welfare and production, BSAS Conference.

• Loftus, L., Bell, G., Padmore, E., Atkinson, S., Henworth, A. and Hoyle, M., 2020. The effect of two different farrowing systems on sow behaviour, and piglet behaviour, mortality and growth. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 105-112.


Loni Loftus and Elizabeth Blavins (Completed project)

The nutritional contents of independently tested forage from UK farmers and potential impact on equine welfare.

The gastrointestinal system of a horse and subsequent links to the overall wellbeing of the horse still require investigation, more-so now than ever as management within the equine industry does not reflect the natural behaviours of the horse.

This study focuses on the importance of testing forages for nutritional content in order to adjust ration formulation, behaviour and health and wellbeing in equines. Data from 24/7 UK forage samples, sent for independent testing, were collected and processed to profile mean Dry Matter, Crude Protein value was 11.09%CP (Min: 8.96%CP, Max:19.31%CP). Mean soluble Carbohydrate value were 9.73%SC (Min: 9.07%SC, Max: 10.76%SC).

The results showed that there was a statistically significant difference amongst UK counties in regards to Dry Matter (DF=39; H=504.94; P<0.001), Crude Protein (DF=39; H=518.52; P<0.001) and Soluble Carbohydrate (DF=39; H=364.17; P<0.001) using a Kruskal-Wallis statistics test.

These results highlight the importance of forage nutrition testing as the results showed that county mean values were highly varied. In the future, the equine industry needs to implement the testing of forage within normal management practices, this will improve overall nutritional welfare for equines in the UK.

• Loftus, L. and Blavins, E. 2020. The nutritional contents of independently tested forage from UK farmers and potential impact on equine welfare. UCAB Change in the Animal Industries.


Thomas Welsh (completed project)

Visitor attachment to dolphins during swim programmes.

Forming emotional connections and memorable experiences with animals are effective learning tools for conservation education. Human-animal interactions (HAIs) during these programmes are generally positive experiences for the human participants, however are there implications for the individual animals involved?

Here, 41 visitors were surveyed to assess their sense of attachment to the dolphin. Alongside this, 96 15-minute continuous focal sampling observations were carried out for three female dolphins Aged 22 - >40. 80% of visitors reported forming a bond with the dolphin.

A Friedman’s Two-Way ANOVA produced significant results for some behaviour categories for each individual however, pairwise comparison showed no differences pre-post interaction.

Therefore, it can be implied that for these dolphins, participating in the HAI was neither enriching nor aversive for them. As visitors reported a sense of attachment post HAI, this could have applications in improving conservation education.

This study has provided scope for research into methods facilities can use to utilise the emotional attachment developed to individual animals to facilitate learning about conservation issues.

• Welsh, T. 2020. Visitor Attachment to Dolphins during swim programmes. UCAB Change in the Animal Industries.

Askham Bryan College,
Askham Bryan,
YO23 3FR
01904 772277