Jonathan Balcombe is Director for Animal Sentience for the Humane Society Institute for Science and Policy in Washington, DC. He is the author of Pleasurable Kingdom, Second Nature and The Exultant Ark. This is the link to Jonathan’s website. As an internationally recognised expert and respected author in animal behaviour, I’m very excited to share with you Jonathan’s article called ‘Farm Animal Feelings get Scientific’.
It is hard to say whether I’ve learned more about the behaviour of farm animals from reading scientific studies or from first-hand interactions at a local sanctuary for rescued animals where I volunteer on Saturday mornings. As an ethologist (a student of animal behaviour), I’ve perused my share of published papers about everything from flooring preferences in hens to eureka moments in calves. But there is no substitute for the experience of rubbing a grateful pig’s belly or watching a row of hens sunbathing in a beam of sunlight.
Despite their unfair relegation to the minor leagues of respectability, the animals who humans raise to be eaten are among the most studied of all. Much of the research is done in the industry’s interest of maximising yields, but a good amount of pure behavioural research has also been amassed. As the former scientific taboo on studying animal minds and feelings has lifted, we are gaining exciting perspectives on their inner lives.
One of the more surprising results was a 2004 study with the provocative title Chickens prefer beautiful humans. When presented with pairs of photographs of human faces, chickens showed an astonishingly close (98 percent) correlation of face preference to those of humans rated. It remains uncertain what this says about a chicken’s aesthetic sense, but the idea of chickens preferring any humans has poignancy, given how inhumanely we treat them. Here in America we currently slaughter about 300 chickens every second, and poultry are not even covered by the federal humane slaughter law.
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