The impact of gastrointestinal parasitism on the behaviour and welfare of weaned housed lambs

MR Reeves*, NJL Booth, NJ Fox, JE Donbavand, MC Jack, Fiona Kenyon, Jessica E Martin, EM Baxter, CM Dwyer

*Corresponding author for this work

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Gastrointestinal (GI) parasitism is a health and production concern in sheep, yet its impact on animal welfare remains unclear. The impact of subclinical infections is especially ambiguous as GI parasitism often remains undiagnosed until clinical signs such as diarrhoea are evident. This study applied quantitative and qualitative methods to examine the effects of subclinical Teladorsagia circumcincta infection on the behaviour and welfare of 96 Suffolk-cross lambs (24 pens of 4 lambs) weaned at 10 weeks old. The hypothesis that parasitism causes negative affective states was tested. Lambs were divided into three groups at the pen level: ad-lib fed control (AC), restricted-fed control (RC), and ad-lib fed parasitised (AP). Parasitised lambs (AP) were dosed three times weekly with 7000 third stage T. circumcincta larvae (L 3) from 16 weeks of age. Lambs in the RC group were pair fed to match AP feed intake to separate the effects of infection-induced anorexia from the potential direct impacts of infection. From 7 days pre-infection to 23 days post-infection, scan and behaviour samples were taken from video recordings to quantitatively monitor behaviour, and animal-based measures such as faecal soiling score (FSS) were recorded as welfare indicators. Lying, standing, eating, play and social behaviour were monitored. Qualitative behaviour assessment (QBA) was conducted weekly using the AWIN (2015) protocol to gain insight into the lambs’ affective states over the onset of infection. Parasitised lambs were more likely to stand inactive than AC lambs as the infection progressed (P=0.006). They were also less likely to display eating behaviour in the third daily scan sample than RC lambs (P<0.001). Principal Component Analysis of the QBA data revealed that the first dimension (PC1) described arousal levels, the second (PC2) described the valence of the animals’ affective states, and the third (PC3) described fearfulness and aggression levels. Parasitised lambs (est=10.64,SE=0.33) scored higher than RC lambs (est=9.42, SE=0.33) on PC3, the fearfulness dimension (P=0.030). There were no differences between fearfulness scores of AC and AP lambs or RC lambs and treatment group had no significant impact on the distribution of scores on PC1 or PC2. These findings demonstrate that subclinical GI parasitism negatively impacts lamb welfare not only in the health domain but in the behaviour and mental domains as well. This has implications for welfare assessments and early disease detection in lambs. Future research could explore remote monitoring of the indicators of parasitism identified in this study.

Original languageEnglish
Article number106323
JournalApplied Animal Behaviour Science
Early online date24 Jun 2024
Publication statusPrint publication - Jul 2024

Bibliographical note

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  • QBA
  • Discomfort
  • Sheep
  • T.circumcincta
  • Ruminant


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