CCSAW Seminar (online): Chicken welfare – a triangulation approach

Date and Time



Note: This seminar will be delivered via a Zoom Meeting. Register here by noon, Sept 29th, to receive the link. The link will be sent out that afternoon.

Chicken welfare – a triangulation approach, with Professor Christine Nicol, Royal Veterinary College
Animal welfare is a complex theoretical construct, intimately interlinked with questions relating to animal sentience and conscious experience, which cannot be measured directly.  The ongoing utility of this welfare construct therefore depends on strong convergence between its proposed measures. Two key paradigms for addressing questions of animal welfare have emerged, focusing on concerns related to (i) health and biological functioning, and (ii) motivational state. These have generated substantial, but largely separate, measures and bodies of knowledge.  We have previously examined empirical relationships between these two approaches, and the results of these studies will be reviewed. The rapid recent emergence of a third approach to animal welfare science, focussed on affective state and decision-making, has enabled us to perform a triangulation study examining associations between all three methodologies.  The talk will discuss the implications of measures that do and do not converge for our thinking about animal welfare

Professor Christine Nicol is Professor of Animal Welfare at the Royal Veterinary College, with honorary appointments at the University of Oxford and the University of Lincoln. As a youngster, Christine spent weekends working at a local veterinary practice, which only encouraged her to study Zoology instead. At Oxford she met Marian Dawkins who became pivotal to Christine’s future career. After graduation Christine worked with horses belonging to another pioneer in the field of applied animal behaviour and welfare - Dr Marthe Kiley-Worthington. In 1982 Christine returned to Oxford to pursue a PhD on the behavioural needs of battery housed hens, supervised by Marian.  Her studies established the specific behaviours that were prevented by spatial restriction and showed that, contrary to common opinion, hens were not able to adapt over time to this degree of confinement. Whilst writing-up her thesis in the autumn of 1985, Christine applied for a lectureship in animal welfare that had been created by Professor John Webster at the University of Bristol.

Many happy and productive years were spent at Bristol developing fundamental work on chicken perception and cognition. During this time Christine also worked with epidemiologists including Professor Laura Green to establish risk factors for common welfare problems such as feather pecking and keel bone damage. The welfare group grew to become an influential international centre for animal welfare science. Relationships with industry and NGOs were formed to ensure that theoretical results were translated into improvements in commercial practice.  In 2001 Christine was appointed to a Professorship at Bristol and was awarded the Prince Laurent Foundation prize for work on equine welfare (with Professor Paul McGreevy). She received the UFAW medal for outstanding achievement in animal welfare science (2012), and other awards from ISAE, EAAP, ASAB and the BVA followed. In 2017 moved to the Royal Veterinary College, welcoming a chance to refocus her research. She continues to work on both fundamental and applied questions relevant to poultry production, as well as new projects on African elephants and wild cetaceans.

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