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To swim or not to swim: an interpretation of farmed mink's motivation for a water bath

By Claudia M. Vinke, Steffen W. Hansen, Jaakko Mononen, Hannu Korhonen, Jonathan J. Cooper, Maarit Mohaibes, Morten Bakken and Berry M. Spruijt


How an animal’s behavioural (ethological) needs can be met is a pivotal issue in the assessment of welfare for captive animals. The value of swimming water for farmed mink is an example how scientific and societal questions relating to animal welfare can be answered. A number of studies have addressed the issue of the indispensability of swimming water for mink; however, so far with inconclusive evidence. In this paper, the results of these studies and related literature are reviewed. \ud First, the biological definition of need is discussed. Subsequently, attention is paid to the effects of the presence, absence and the removal of swimming water on behavioural and physiological correlates of well-being including stereotypic and anticipatory behaviour and urinary cortisol. Thereafter we discuss individual differences in the use of swimming water, the price animals pay for access to a water bath, and the effect of access to swimming water on juvenile play. \ud The main conclusions of the literature review are that 1) the use of a water bath for mink is most likely related to foraging behaviour (foraging areas: land and water); 2) absence of swimming water, without prior experience, does not lead to consistent changes in level of stereotypic behaviour, or anticipatory responses; 3) removal of a previously experienced water bath may induce short-term stress as indicated by behavioural parameters and elevated cortisol responses; 4) mink work hard for access to a swimming bath and running wheel in consumer demand studies. Other cage modifications such as tunnels and biting objects, may also provide environmental enrichment, if they are added to otherwise impoverished conditions; 5) There are individual differences in the use of swimming water: these are related in part to variation in prior experience of aquatic resources.; 6) As prior experience is important both with respect to individual use of swimming water and the response to deprivation, swimming water can not be described as biological need in the sense of a fixed requirement for survival. As swimming water appears to act as an incentive that induces its own motivation a more accurate term may be an “incentive induced or environmentally facilitated need”. Given the available evidence, it is not possible to conclude whether mink that have never experienced swimming water, suffer as a consequence of its absence. However, it is possible to predict that mink with access to water have improved quality of life, due to increased behavioural opportunities, in comparison to farmed mink without access to swimming water. In practical terms, it is still open to debate whether mink should be provided with swimming water, or if alternative, less valued, but easier to install and maintain forms of environmental enrichment, should be provided in mink housing.\ud To clarify these issues a number of future studies would be valuable. These include; 1) whether specific environmental cues affect motivation to swim, such as the form of drinking water delivery systems ; 2) whether prior experience of swimming water affects its incentive value; in other words “can you miss what you never experienced?”; 3) do behavioural parameters such as stereotypic behaviour; rebound effects and vacuum activity have any general utility in assessing the value of absent resources; 4) what are preferences for and the value of alternative resources which may act as substitutes for swimming water. In addition we would recommend further work investigating: relationship between access to swimming water and positive indicators of welfare such as play and/or anticipatory behaviour; the effects of preventing the performance of rewarding behaviours and deprivation of a previous experienced resource; and health and hygeine issues related to provision of a water bath. In future work, it would be desirable to present be the actual percentages of animals using a water bath during the experiment and the use of power analyses, to aid their interpretation

Topics: D421 Livestock Husbandry, D300 Animal Science, D328 Animal Welfare
Publisher: Elsevier
Year: 2008
DOI identifier: 10.1016/j.applanim.2008.02.006
OAI identifier:

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