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Animals 2018, 8(11), 209;

Qualitative Behavioural Assessment as a Method to Identify Potential Stressors during Commercial Sheep Transport

School of Veterinary & Life Sciences, Murdoch University, Murdoch WA 6150, Australia
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 3 October 2018 / Revised: 29 October 2018 / Accepted: 9 November 2018 / Published: 15 November 2018
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Farm Animal Transport)
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Simple Summary

Land transport is a common and unavoidable experience for most livestock, yet it remains a health and welfare concern. From the animals’ perspective, transport involves mixing with other animals, novel experiences, and prolonged standing, often after periods of water and feed withdrawal (‘curfews’). Although the physical effects of transport have been studied, often by the impact on meat quality, the effects on the mental well-being of sheep are unknown. The aim of this study was to identify factors that influence the behavioural expression of sheep undergoing land transport, using observers who were blinded to the experimental treatments to score the animal’s body language during land transport. Various vehicle crate types, deck positions, sheep breeds and point of origin were compared. All treatments were variations on current commercial transport, and therefore stocking density was similar between the vehicles as per regulatory requirements, but truck designs varied. This study supports using the scoring of behavioural expression to assess sheep welfare during transport.


Land transport is an unavoidable experience for most livestock, yet there is limited research comparing animal welfare under different conditions. We video recorded sheep responses during short (2 h) commercial road transport journeys. Using Qualitative Behavioural Assessment, observers (blinded to the treatments) scored the behavioural expression of sheep and reached significant consensus in their scoring patterns (p < 0.001). There were also significant effects of vehicle crate design (sheep transported in a ‘standard’ crate were more calm/relaxed than those transported in a ‘convertible’ crate), deck position (sheep on upper decks were more curious/alert than those on lower decks), and sheep breed (fat-tail sheep were more agitated/distressed than merino sheep) on observer scores. We only found marginal differences for sheep originating from feedlot or saleyard. Significant effects of vehicle driver (included as a random factor in all but one of our analyses) suggest driving patterns contributed to demeanour of the sheep. Finally, the fourteen drivers who participated in the study were asked their opinions on livestock transport; none of the factors we tested were identified by drivers as important for sheep welfare during transport. This study supports the use of qualitative measures in transport and revealed differences that could inform truck design. View Full-Text
Keywords: qualitative behavioural assessment; QBA; sheep; transport; behaviour qualitative behavioural assessment; QBA; sheep; transport; behaviour

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Collins, T.; Stockman, C.A.; Barnes, A.L.; Miller, D.W.; Wickham, S.L.; Fleming, P.A. Qualitative Behavioural Assessment as a Method to Identify Potential Stressors during Commercial Sheep Transport. Animals 2018, 8, 209.

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