Social behaviour in farm animals: applying fundamental theory to improve animal welfare

VE Lee*, Gareth Arnott, Simon Turner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
32 Downloads (Pure)


A fundamental understanding of behaviour is essential to improving the welfare of billions of farm animals around the world. Despite living in an environment managed by humans, farm animals are still capable of making important behavioural decisions that influence welfare. In this review, we focus on social interactions as perhaps the most dynamic and challenging aspects of the lives of farm animals. Social stress is a leading welfare concern in livestock, and substantial variation in social behaviour is seen at the individual and group level. Here, we consider how a fundamental understanding of social behaviour can be used to: i) understand agonistic and affiliative interactions in farm animals; ii) identify how artificial environments influence social behaviour and impact welfare; and iii) provide insights into the mechanisms and development of social behaviour. We conclude by highlighting opportunities to build on previous work and suggest potential fundamental hypotheses of applied relevance. Key areas for further research could include identifying the welfare benefits of socio-positive interactions, the potential impacts of disrupting important social bonds, and the role of skill in allowing farm animals to navigate competitive and positive social interactions. Such studies should provide insights to improve the welfare of farm animals, while also being applicable to other contexts, such as zoos and laboratories.
Original languageEnglish
Article number932217
JournalFrontiers in Veterinary Science
Early online date12 Aug 2022
Publication statusFirst published - 12 Aug 2022


  • Veterinary Science
  • social behavior
  • welfare
  • contest behavior
  • social relationships
  • livestock


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