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Animals 2014, 4(1), 93-118; doi:10.3390/ani4010093

Social Networks and Welfare in Future Animal Management

1,*  and 2
Received: 6 January 2014 / Revised: 26 February 2014 / Accepted: 10 March 2014 / Published: 17 March 2014
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Future of Farm Animal Welfare)
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Simple Summary: Living in a stable social environment is important to animals. Animal species have developed social behaviors and rules of approach and avoidance of conspecifics in order to co-exist. Animal species are kept or domesticated without explicit regard for their inherent social behavior and rules. Examples of social structures are provided for four species kept and managed by humans. This information is important for the welfare management of these species. In the near future, automatic measurement of social structures will provide a tool for daily welfare management together with nearest neighbor information.


It may become advantageous to keep human-managed animals in the social network groups to which they have adapted. Data concerning the social networks of farm animal species and their ancestors are scarce but essential to establishing the importance of a natural social network for farmed animal species. Social Network Analysis (SNA) facilitates the characterization of social networking at group, subgroup and individual levels. SNA is currently used for modeling the social behavior and management of wild animals and social welfare of zoo animals. It has been recognized for use with farm animals but has yet to be applied for management purposes. Currently, the main focus is on cattle, because in large groups (poultry), recording of individuals is expensive and the existence of social networks is uncertain due to on-farm restrictions. However, in many cases, a stable social network might be important to individual animal fitness, survival and welfare. For instance, when laying hens are not too densely housed, simple networks may be established. We describe here small social networks in horses, brown bears, laying hens and veal calves to illustrate the importance of measuring social networks among animals managed by humans. Emphasis is placed on the automatic measurement of identity, location, nearest neighbors and nearest neighbor distance for management purposes. It is concluded that social networks are important to the welfare of human-managed animal species and that welfare management based on automatic recordings will become available in the near future.
Keywords: Social Network Analysis; SNA; captive animals; animal management; approach-avoidance behavior; animal welfare; Ursus arctos; Equus caballus; Gallus gallus domesticus; Bos taurus Social Network Analysis; SNA; captive animals; animal management; approach-avoidance behavior; animal welfare; Ursus arctos; Equus caballus; Gallus gallus domesticus; Bos taurus
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Koene, P.; Ipema, B. Social Networks and Welfare in Future Animal Management. Animals 2014, 4, 93-118.

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