Lee, V. E., Arnott, G., Turner, S. P. 2022. Social behavior in farm animals: Applying fundamental theory to improve animal welfare. Frontiers in Veterinary Science 9, 932217.
A fundamental understanding of behavior 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 behavioral 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 behavior is seen at the individual and group level. Here, we consider how a fundamental understanding of social behavior can be used to: (i) understand agonistic and affiliative interactions in farm animals; (ii) identify how artificial environments influence social behavior and impact welfare; and (iii) provide insights into the mechanisms and development of social behavior. 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.