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Environmental Enrichment for Farm Animals

Farm animals present special challenges for environmental enrichment.

Safety is a big issue as some species are stronger and more destructive than the average laboratory animal. Special care should be taken to ensure that limbs, horns, lips or feet cannot become trapped or injured. In some cases the enclosures themselves are challenging due to configuration, drain size and feeding vessels are uniquely shaped.

It is key, for those interacting with these animals to understand the natural behaviors expected from each species.

Enrichment items should be made of non toxic materials and not allow limbs and body parts to become trapped. They should not pose a danger to pen mates or damage the pen itself. Ruggedness and flexibility are important from a safety perspective, as these large animals may be injured by ingesting parts and pieces that can be chewed off.

Can the enrichment product withstand the rough activity and conditions where the animals are housed? For example, if the animals are housed in pastures, can the item withstand weather conditions, mud, and most importantly can they be cleaned and sanitized in accordance with regulations?

With few exceptions, agricultural animals are social. If social contact is not possible, human interaction is a good substitute.

In some cases music, mirrors or videos can enhance their environment.

Training and desensitizing are valuable for all species. Using gentle, positive training will acclimate and empower the animals to feel more secure in their environment. Understanding how the animal normally would react to stress, fear, hunger, etc is the key in a successful enrichment program.

Gentle touch is important, as some animals, such as cattle, can recognize individuals, and will respond negatively to instances of rough handling.

One cautionary note: competition for the item can stimulate aggressive behaviors, so social groups should be monitored after introduction of a new enrichment item.

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