Animal resilience can be predicted and influenced

February 6, 2024

Meeting the natural and physiological needs of animals has a positive impact on their resilience. This is the outcome of a study for which Ingrid van Dixhoorn obtained her PhD from Wageningen University & Research. Moreover, the degree of resilience animals display in the face of disruptions can be predicted.

Van Dixhoorn studied the transition period cows experience from the dry period (the farmer ceases milking them so that the udders can recover) to lactation (producing milk, starting when the calf is born). During the first two weeks of this period, cows are very vulnerable. ‘Diligently safeguarding a proper day-night rhythm increases the cows’ resilience’, Van Dixhoorn states. ‘Moreover, they need copious amounts of food to help them get through this period.’

Extreme enrichment

Van Dixhoorn studied how pigs respond to lung infections. The scientist provided an extreme level of enrichment in part of the barn. All manner of materials were added to enable the pigs to express their natural behaviour, such as chewing and rooting. Van Dixhoorn: ‘The pigs in the enriched barn visibly benefited from the enrichment and proved to be more resilient because they recovered faster and were less affected by the disease.

’Disease and other disruptions are caused by a variety of factors and can never be completely prevented. Hence, resilience in animals is important so that they can recover more easily. Enriching the pig living environment and encouraging a proper day-night rhythm in cows are two examples of strategies farmers can deploy to enhance their livestock’s resilience and positively impact their health.

Predictive factors

In addition to influencing resilience, Van Dixhoorn’s dissertation also shows possible predictive factors for resilience can be identified. ‘You may determine an animal’s sensitivity before a problem arises’, Van Dixhoorn says. ‘That makes timely interventions possible, thus supporting these animals and preventing health and wellness issues.’Resilience in animals is best described as the capacity to overcome disease and other disruptions and the recovery speed. This study forms an excellent example of how Wageningen University & Research works to support animal health and wellbeing by bolstering their natural abilities and, in doing so, contributing to their health and humane livestock farming.