Synergy for preventing damaging behaviour in group housed pigs and chickens


Click here to edit subtitle


The GroupHouseNet aim is to provide the European livestock industry with innovations in breeding and management for pigs and poultry that are needed for a successful transition to large group housing systems without necessitating painful tail docking and beak trimming. Allowing the animals greater opportunities to display their species-specific behaviour while avoiding the routine use of painful procedures, group housing of unmutilated animals sits at the core of the new animal welfare paradigm driven by consumer demand. Group housing is associated with increased risks of the animals performing damaging behaviours. Recent research suggests the key to reducing the incidence of these behaviours lies in refining and applying methods of genetic selection, and developing husbandry innovations that improve early and later life conditions - which is exactly what GroupHouseNet will use the COST Action framework and tools to do. GroupHouseNet brings together researchers and industrial partners dealing with animal breeding and genetics, animal nutrition, epidemiology, engineering, animal behaviour and welfare, epigenetics, immunology, (neuro)physiology, economics and ethics. To strengthen the scientific and technological basis in these areas the Action will facilitate knowledge sharing, creation and application in pigs and laying hens in both experimental and commercial environments. The activities will be conducted in an open, output-oriented transnational, multisectoral, and multidisciplinary research and development network emphasising COST Excellence and Inclusiveness Policy. 

Damaging behaviour in poultry

Chief Executive Officer

Injurious pecking is a collective term used to describe feather pecking, vent pecking and cannibalism. Varying from mild to extremely severe, it is a significant welfare and economic problem, and is the leading cause of mortality in free-range systems. Risk factors are numerous, including genetics, rearing conditions, diet and housing. Injurious pecks are usually directed at the body of another bird. In contrast, aggressive pecking has a different underlying motivation and pecks are usually directed at the head or neck of another bird. Aggressive pecking is used to establish and maintain social relationships between birds, but can be a problem in housing systems where there is competition for resources. 

Damaging behaviour in pigs

Marketing Director

Tail biting is an extremely common behavioural disorder in pigs, can result in severe injuries, and each outbreak can affect most of the pigs in an individual pen. It is associated with stressful situations, such as a barren environment, high stocking densities, and slatted floor systems. Docking of the tail is commonly performed to reduce its occurrence and severity. It is not only a welfare problem but causes significant economic losses through carcass loss and condemnations. Although a certain level of aggression is normal in pigs, as they use aggression to establish social relationships, commercial farming practices can exacerbate it. It occurs when there is disruption to the social hierarchy or when there is limited access to resources such as space and feed, and can lead to severe injuries and high levels of stress.