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Behavioral Methods for Severity Assessment

Use of a Tri-Axial Accelerometer Can Reliably Detect Play Behaviour in Newborn Calves

Scottish Centre for Production Animal Health and Food Safety, University of Glasgow School of Veterinary Medicine, Bearsden Road, Glasgow G61 1QH, UK
Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health & Comparative Medicine, University of Glasgow Garscube Estate, Bearsden Road, Glasgow G61 1QH, UK
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2020, 10(7), 1137;
Received: 28 May 2020 / Revised: 29 June 2020 / Accepted: 2 July 2020 / Published: 5 July 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Development and Assessment of Animal Welfare Indicators)
Traditionally, health and production measures have been used to assess farm animal welfare, but these do not encompass all aspects of welfare. In recent years, the concept of “positive animal welfare” has been gaining momentum, in line with the notion that a good animal life prevents negative experiences and also promotes positive experiences. Play behaviour is considered to be a good indicator of positive animal welfare. Accelerometers (movement sensors) worn by animals can be used to monitor activity as a proxy for different behaviours in a much less time-consuming manner than traditional behavioural observations. In this study, we assessed whether a commercially available leg-mounted accelerometer could reliably identify play behaviour in newborn dairy calves. Our results showed that accelerometer technology can be used to identify the amount of play behaviour exhibited by newborn calves in the first 48 h of life, and we discuss its potential for use in the assessment of the welfare of newborn calves in the future.
Traditionally, the welfare assessment of farm animals has focused on health and production outcomes. Positive welfare is, however, not merely the absence of negative welfare and is an important part of a life worth living. Play behaviour is widely considered to be an indicator of positive emotions because it is a “luxury” behaviour. Direct visual observation is considered the most accurate method of behavioural analysis, but it is time consuming and laborious. There is increasing interest in the use of remote monitoring technology to quantify behaviour. We compared the data output (“motion index” (MI)) from a commercially available tri-axial accelerometer fitted to newborn dairy calves to video footage of the same calves, with a focus on play behaviour. The motion index values over 48 h were positively correlated with both the duration of play behaviour and the number of play bouts. The motion index threshold in each sample interval with the optimal sensitivity and specificity for the identification of play behaviour was MI ≥ 2.5 at a 1 min resolution (sensitivity (Se) = 98.0%; specificity (Sp) = 92.9%) and MI ≥ 24.5 at a 15 min resolution (Se = 98.0%; Sp = 89.9%), but these values consistently overestimated the overall proportion of sample intervals in which play was observed. The MI that best reflected the results obtained from visual one-zero sampling was MI ≥ 23 for 1 min intervals and MI ≥ 62 for 15 min intervals—this may therefore be the basis of a more conservative approach to the identification of play behaviour from accelerometer-generated data. Our results indicate that accelerometer-generated data can usefully indicate the amount of play behaviour shown by newborn calves for up to 48 h, providing an efficient method for identifying this important parameter in future work. View Full-Text
Keywords: welfare; calf behaviour; accelerometer; play; positive welfare state welfare; calf behaviour; accelerometer; play; positive welfare state
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MDPI and ACS Style

Gladden, N.; Cuthbert, E.; Ellis, K.; McKeegan, D. Use of a Tri-Axial Accelerometer Can Reliably Detect Play Behaviour in Newborn Calves. Animals 2020, 10, 1137.

AMA Style

Gladden N, Cuthbert E, Ellis K, McKeegan D. Use of a Tri-Axial Accelerometer Can Reliably Detect Play Behaviour in Newborn Calves. Animals. 2020; 10(7):1137.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Gladden, Nicola; Cuthbert, Erin; Ellis, Kathryn; McKeegan, Dorothy. 2020. "Use of a Tri-Axial Accelerometer Can Reliably Detect Play Behaviour in Newborn Calves" Animals 10, no. 7: 1137.

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