Animal welfare considerations are now important for farm animal species, and represent a public interest issue for animal production that is additional to concern for product quality or the environment. Animal welfare refers to the capacity for complex thoughts and emotions, and is based on the harmony between the individual and its environment (Dawkins, 1993). Negative emotions such as fear are generally considered to affect animal welfare, and routine management procedures such as shearing, castration, tail docking, dehorning, vaccination, herding and transportation can elicit fear responses. In addition, excessive fear may reduce productivity. For instance, fear reactions affect sexual and maternal behaviours and social dominance ability in cattle and sheep (review Bouissou et al., 2001 ; Fisher and Matthews, 2001). The ability of animals to adapt to their farm environments should be improved by reducing their fear. Genetic variability of behavioural traits is important in domestic herbivores due to the process of domestication. Domestication has changed not only the animals’ physical characteristics but also their behaviour such as social grouping tendencies and short flight distances in reaction to humans (Price, 1984). A better knowledge of the genetic factors that influence fear responses could help to increase adaptive abilities that are of economic and ethical significance for farm animals. Evidence that fear responsiveness are heritable has been largely shown in laboratory species (review Ramos and Mormède, 1998), and animal-breeding selection on fear responses could be thus for farm animal welfare as significant as the systems in which the animals are managed. However, little information is available about behavioural genetics in domestic herbivores.
Proceedings of the World Congress on Genetics Applied to Livestock Production, Volume 2002. Session 14, , 14.01, 2002
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