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Welfare by the ear: comparing relative durations and frequencies of ear postures by using an automated tracking system in sheep

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Publication date 2014
Author Vögeli Sabine, Wechsler Beat, Gygax Lorenz,
Project Interplay of mood and stimulus valence on emotional cortical activation
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Animal Welfare
Volume (Issue) 23(8)
Page(s) 267 - 274
Title of proceedings Animal Welfare

Open Access


Given the increased interest in animal emotional reactions for assessing welfare, indicators for such reactions are sought. Ear postures and movements have been found to be promising indicators of emotional states in sheep and other animals. The manual recording of ear postures, however, is very time consuming and possibly prone to some inaccuracy due to the subtle and fast nature of ear movements that have to be identified. Therefore, some previous studies have analysed the frequency of certain ear postures relative to all ear posture changes rather than measuring the relative duration spent with different ear postures. Here, we present an automated, continuous tracking system that keeps track of small and lightweight marker balls attached to the head and ears of sheep. We measured ear postures and movements when the animals were confronted with three physical stimuli thought to differ in valence (from negative to intermediate to positive). We then compared new ear-posture definitions reflecting the real time spent with certain ear postures during stimulation with previous definitions used for video-based analyses that assessed ear-posture changes in relation to the total number of observed ear postures. In the analysis, we correlated new and previous measures both between and within experimental stimuli using residuals from mixed-effects models. We found that the new and previous definitions of ear postures and movements correlated highly. Given these high correlations and the discussed theoretical and practical advantages of the automated tracking, the new recording system can be recommended highly for assessing emotional reactions in animals.