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Animal-Based Measures for the On-Farm Welfare Assessment of Geese



Currently, no specific animal-based measures (ABMs) protocols are available for geese in commercial meat production systems. Following a critical review of the literature and consultation of experts, seven ABMs, potentially valid and feasible for the on-farm welfare assessment of geese, were identified and then tested in 12 farms in Poland to assess their inter-observer reliability. Two observers conducted the assessment, which was divided into two phases. First, a handling test assessed the human–animal relationship (HAR), and a 100% inter-observer reliability was achieved by the observers when evaluating the attitudes of stockpeople and the reactions of geese to humans. Next, an animal inspection was conducted, and the observers simultaneously and independently visually evaluated 100 randomly selected geese per farm and assessed whether the selected ABMs could be identified. In terms of inter-observer reliability, high correlation coefficients were found for plumage dirtiness (ρ = 0.745; p < 0.01), twisted wings (ρ = 0.890; p < 0.001), and broken/twisted wings (ρ = 0.858; p < 0.001). The results showed that plumage dirtiness, twisted wings, and broken/twisted wings are valid and reliable measures. Further research should address the reliability of ABMs of geese in other types of production systems.
Animal-Based Measures for the On-Farm Welfare
Assessment of Geese
Carlo Tremolada 1, * , Halina Bieli ´nska 2, Michela Minero 1, Valentina Ferrante 3,
Elisabetta Canali 1and Sara Barbieri 1
1Dipartimento di Medicina Veterinaria, Universitàdegli Studi di Milano, 26900 Lodi, Italy; (M.M.); (E.C.); (S.B.)
2Kołuda Wielka Experimental Station, The National Research Institute of Animal Production,
88-160 Janikowo, Poland;
3Dipartimento di Scienze e Politiche Ambientali, Universitàdegli Studi di Milano, 20133 Milano, Italy;
Received: 22 April 2020; Accepted: 17 May 2020; Published: 20 May 2020
Simple Summary:
This paper aims to identify animal-based measures of geese welfare for birds
raised in commercial meat production systems, and to assess the reliability of these measures. As with
other livestock production systems, it is important that geese producers can demonstrate compliance
with accepted welfare standards. Presently, there are no welfare measures that have been developed
specifically for the geese meat industry. The results showed that plumage dirtiness, twisted wings,
and broken/twisted wings are valid and reliable measures of goose welfare and can thus be included
in on-farm welfare assessment protocols. Future studies should examine the reliability of other
animal-based measures.
Currently, no specific animal-based measures (ABMs) protocols are available for geese in
commercial meat production systems. Following a critical review of the literature and consultation
of experts, seven ABMs, potentially valid and feasible for the on-farm welfare assessment of geese,
were identified and then tested in 12 farms in Poland to assess their inter-observer reliability.
Two observers conducted the assessment, which was divided into two phases. First, a handling test
assessed the human–animal relationship (HAR), and a 100% inter-observer reliability was achieved
by the observers when evaluating the attitudes of stockpeople and the reactions of geese to humans.
Next, an animal inspection was conducted, and the observers simultaneously and independently
visually evaluated 100 randomly selected geese per farm and assessed whether the selected ABMs
could be identified. In terms of inter-observer reliability, high correlation coecients were found for
plumage dirtiness (
=0.745; p<0.01), twisted wings (
=0.890; p<0.001), and broken/twisted wings
=0.858; p<0.001). The results showed that plumage dirtiness, twisted wings, and broken/twisted
wings are valid and reliable measures. Further research should address the reliability of ABMs of
geese in other types of production systems.
Keywords: goose; animal welfare; animal-based measure; inter-observer reliability
1. Introduction
Social awareness of farm animal rearing conditions has increased in recent years [
], and animal
welfare has become a prerequisite for companies that aim to develop high-quality and sound animal
products for the global market [2].
Animals 2020,10, 890; doi:10.3390/ani10050890
Animals 2020,10, 890 2 of 10
Welfare is a multidimensional concept that includes the consideration of both the physical
and mental states of animals [
], so its assessment should be based on measures developed using
species-specific parameters.
Two broad categories of measures can be used to assess animal welfare at the on-farm level:
Resource-based and animal-based (ABMs) [
]. Rearing conditions have previously been evaluated
using assessment methods mainly focused on resources (e.g., feeding systems, space availability,
and housing) and on management factors [
]. ABMs relate directly to the animal rather than to its
living environment [
], and can thus be obtained from various housing conditions and uniquely used
to compare farming systems, enabling the standardization of evaluation methods. Therefore, valid,
reliable, and feasible measures should be identified so on-farm welfare assessment protocols can be
developed [5].
Integrating ABMs into on-farm welfare assessment protocols also supports the European
Commission’s call for a more outcome-based approach to integrating the EU’s animal welfare
regulatory framework [
]. The protocols should also be science-based to ensure they comply with
legislation or standards that guarantee the welfare of farm animals.
Few protocols for assessing animal welfare at the farm level that include valid, reliable, and feasible
ABMs are currently in place. Welfare assessment protocols for poultry have been developed [
but no ABM-based protocols assess the welfare of geese under commercial production.
Geese were first domesticated over 3000 years ago and are now mainly reared for meat and down
production [
]. Geese can be raised successfully on pasture with little equipment and simple housing
facilities in areas where green grass is available for a large part of the year. Under free-range conditions,
adult geese only require indoor housing or shelter in winter or during stormy weather [
]. Geese are
excellent grazers, well adapted to most environments, and forage extensively, and thus are particularly
easy to rear compared to other poultry species, while maintaining a high and ecient growth rate [
Despite these positive aspects, goose production is marginal in many countries, and is only
economically relevant in Asia and Central Europe [11,12].
There are some regulations on the welfare of the goose mainly about the production of feathers or
the production of foie gras [
]. Research into the eects of management practices on the welfare of
geese raised for meat production is more limited than other poultry species, which prevents specific
animal-based measures from being identified and subsequently welfare assessment protocols from
being developed.
The approach and the methodology for identifying a set of specific animal-based measures to
assess the welfare of fattening geese under commercial conditions are described in this study, and the
most pressing welfare issues are identified. The resulting list of measures was tested on-farm to assess
inter-observer reliability.
2. Materials and Methods
The welfare measures were determined through two stages: A set of ABMs were first selected
based on their validity and feasibility for on-farm use, and inter-observer reliability was then tested
after the observers were trained to use the ABMs.
2.1. Selection of Animal-Based Measures
In the first stage of the project, a critical review of the literature was conducted to identify the
key studies addressing animal-based welfare measures in birds raised in commercial meat production
systems. Various databases (Web of Science, CAB Abstracts, and PubMed) were searched using
keywords such as “feather pecking”, “gait”, “beak trimming”, “mutilations”, “feathers conditions”,
“feathers harvesting”, “twisted wings“, “angel wings”, “broken wings”, human-animal relationship”,
“behavior test”, “animal-based”, “animal welfare”, “indicator”, “measure”, “on-farm”, “inter-observer
reliability” combined with “goose”, “geese”, “duck”, “poultry”.
Animals 2020,10, 890 3 of 10
The search resulted in about 60 citations from which studies addressing geese production and
animal-based welfare measures were initially selected. Due to the limited number of studies on geese,
relevant publications on welfare measures developed for ducks and poultry (turkeys and broilers) were
included. We excluded any studies that solely concentrated on resource-based or management-based
measures. After the selection process, a total of 22 papers and two welfare assessment protocols
(Welfare Quality
and AWIN for turkeys), published between 1973 and 2019, satisfied the search
criteria, identifying 12 ABMs.
In a second phase, a one-day consultation with scientists from the National Research Institute
of Animal Production of Poland, internationally acknowledged for their expertise in goose farming
was carried out. In order to define the most promising ABMs to be tested on-farm, scientists were
asked to evaluate each ABM for its validity, in terms of the extent to which its scores represent the
variable they are intended to measure [
], and feasibility, i.e., practicality for on-farm assessment,
particularly when applied to semi-extensive rearing conditions. After group discussion, a synthesis
was made, where scientists reached a consensus on validity and feasibility of seven ABMs. The final
selected ABMs were as follows.
Plumage dirtiness describes a condition in which the feathers covering the breast area of geese
are soiled with faeces or dirty litter. Dirty feathers can lose their protective properties, which has a
significant eect on bird welfare [
]. The plumage conditions of commercially reared birds are
routinely assessed through the Welfare Quality
assessment protocol for broilers and in the AWIN for
turkeys [6,7].
Twisted wing is a musculoskeletal disorder in which the flight feathers of one or both wings of a
bird twist away from the body, mainly during growth [
]. As reported in [
], welfare problems such
as a high stocking density, a fast growth rate, and genetic selection are the main factors contributing to
the twisted wing in white geese. Visually examining the wing posture can provide a feasible assessment
measure of the presence of wing deformities in commercially reared geese [19].
Feather pecking is an abnormal behavior involving rapid and vigorous pecking directed towards
the feathers of another bird, resulting in a poor plumage condition, patches of feather loss, and skin
injuries [
]. Some researches into waterfowl [
], and other poultry have investigated the feasibility
of measuring feather pecking and its validity in commercial farms [6,7,23].
Broken wings are a valid and feasible animal-based measure that can be used to assess the welfare
of geese submitted to inappropriate feather collection and poor catching or handling [14,24].
Immobility can result from health problems, severe walking deficiency and abnormalities in
standing posture, and gait in waterfowl [
]. Measures such as posture and walking ability are
commonly used in assessments of duck and geese welfare [
]. A lack of mobility is relevant to
poultry welfare and the ability to walk is routinely assessed as part of the Welfare Quality
protocol for broilers and in the AWIN for turkeys [6,7].
Feather irregularities, bloody feather quills, and skin injuries in the ventral-breast area are
indicators that feathers were collected inappropriately. Consequently, they can be used to assess the
forcible removal of unripe feathers during commercial collection [14].
Handling tests are designed to measure animals’ reactions to human beings, and the attitudes
and behavior of stockpeople during routine interactions with animals [
]. These interactions are
associated with animal welfare parameters such as levels of fear, stress responses, and productivity [
Methodologies for assessing how comfortable animals are with people have been developed and
applied, and human–animal relation tests are the tools most commonly included in welfare assessment
protocols (e.g., avoidance distance test in the Welfare Quality®assessment protocol for poultry [6]).
2.2. Birds and Management
The refined set of seven ABMs was tested in 12 semi-extensive farms located in the same
geographical region in Poland, which had an average flock size of 6450 geese per farm. The study
was conducted in the summer with steadily good weather conditions. Geese were housed in one
Animals 2020,10, 890 4 of 10
single flock in each farm. The animals were White Koluda fattening geese ranging from 10 to 12 weeks
of age at the time of the evaluation and the age of slaughter was at 15 weeks. The stocking density
was between 0.42 and 1.32 birds/m
. Each farm had one or two indoor houses, which included using
chopped straw as bedding, automatic drinkers, manual feeders, artificial light, and windows. A fenced
pasture was available for the geese to graze on at each farm during daylight hours while they were kept
indoors at night. Their diet consisted of grasses with supplemental feeding of grains and concentrated
feeds twice a day. All the farms participating in the study were part of a controlled supply chain subject
to routine audits.
2.3. Observers
The ABMs were evaluated by one of the authors (Obs-1) and a veterinarian (Obs-2), both of
them experienced in goose behavior and welfare, although Obs-2 had limited experience with ABMs.
Before carrying out the on-farm evaluation, Obs-2 underwent a training period to learn how to perform
and score all the selected measures. The training was carried out by a team of experts, which included
the Obs-1 and consisted of two phases: First, e-learning and then discussion in a virtual meeting
room. The e-learning phase was developed in order to reduce time and costs related to the training,
without losing accuracy in the assessment. Each welfare measure was transferred into a learning
object organized in dierent categories: Description, how to assess, how to score, and some practical
examples. Then, a virtual meeting room, enabling doubts to be clarified, was performed in order to
acquire a uniform level of skills necessary to perform the assessment accurately and reliably.
The training ended with an assessment to evaluate the learning and its eectiveness, and consisted
of 20 questions (including videos and/or pictures); the training was considered complete when the
assessor achieved over 70% of correct answers.
2.4. Data Collection
During the handling test, one observer asked the stockperson to walk inside the pen and to lead a
group of geese (ranging from a minimum of 20 to a maximum of 30 birds) for 1 min from a defined
place (point A) of the fenced pasture to another one (point B), using his/her routine handling techniques.
During the test, only the stockperson was close to the animals while the observers remained at a
distance (approx. 15 m), to ensure the test was properly conducted.
The remaining six ABMs were assessed by an animal inspection after the handling test, to avoid
excessive disturbance of the animals. The inspection was carried out in the indoor houses and in the
pasture, depending on where geese were at the time of inspection. Before starting the inspection,
the general status of the animals was observed and both observers waited until the flock settled down.
The pasture and the indoor house (if available for geese during daylight hours) were divided
along predetermined paths, covering the full area the geese were located in at the time of inspection.
Obs-1 and Obs-2 walked slowly alongside the paths in a random order, stopping every 12 steps.
Both observers simultaneously and independently visually evaluated a maximum of four randomly
selected geese every time they stopped, maintaining a distance of about 1 m from the inspected animals.
At the end of the assessment, a total of 100 geese were assessed in each farm. Geese were not restrained
nor individually handled by the stockperson or by the observers. Data were recorded using specific
recording sheets by both observers. The assessment of each measure and of the scoring system is
described in Table 1.
Animals 2020,10, 890 5 of 10
Table 1. Description of each animal-based measure (ABM) and of the scoring system.
ABMs Description Two-Point Scale Scoring System Level
Handling Test
The observer evaluates the
stockperson’s attitude when
dealing with the animals and
the reactions of geese to
Stockperson’s attitude:
0=approaching and speaking in a gentle voice, walking
slowly, touching the animals gently with a stick.
1=shouting loudly, handling or hitting the animals forcefully
with a stick.
Animals’ reaction:
0= >50% of geese showing normal behavior.
1= >50% of geese showing adverse or fear reactions,
avoidance reactions, loud vocalizations, or wing flapping.
Plumage dirtiness
The observer visually
inspects the ventral-breast
area. Presence of mud
attributed to current weather
conditions is not considered
as plumage dirtiness.
0=no signs of dirt or slight dirt of plumage covering less than
50% of the ventral-breast area.
1=more than 50% of the plumage of ventral-breast area is
contaminated with dirt or feces 3.
The observer visually
inspects the ventral-breast
0=smooth feathers with no signs of disturbance. There is no
evidence of skin lesions to any part of the ventral-breast area.
1=presence of bloody feather quills, skin injuries, or feathers
that are dierent in maturity compared to those on the rest of
the body that indicate the forcible removal of unripe feathers.
Broken wings The observer visually
inspects the wings posture.
0=both wings are in a normal posture.
1=one or both wings are dangling. I
Twisted wings The observer visually
inspects wings posture.
0=both wings are in a normal posture.
1=one or both wings are twisted with primary feathers
projecting away from the body (angle of deviation ranging
from <30 to >60).
Feather pecking
The observer visually
inspects the plumage
condition of neck and back
0=neck and back regions are covered with smooth and
feathers that fit neatly along the body.
1=feathers are disturbed, broken, or even torn out. Presence
of patches of lost feathers (diameter >5 cm) or skin damages.
The observer visually
evaluates the birds’ ability to
0=normal walking ability.
1=complete immobility, severe abnormality in walking, or
reluctance to move.
The ABM is scored at group level;
the ABM is scored at individual level;
presence of mud was not considered
as plumage dirtiness.
2.5. Statistical Analysis
The mean numbers of geese within each animal-based measure category were calculated for
each observer. Prevalence indices for all of the ABMs were calculated. The prevalence index is the
absolute dierence between the agreed numbers for the two categories, divided by the total number
of animals (prevalence index =
/n), where a is the number of agreed-upon animals in one of
the categories and d is the number for the other categories, and nis the total number of possible
agreements, i.e., the number of animals. A prevalence index of 0 indicates a completely balanced
population, while an index of 1 indicates a homogenous population in which only one of the categories
is represented [30].
A Kolmogorov–Smirnov test was applied to the continuous variables to assess the normality of
data distribution. Though Cohen’s kappa (
) is the elective measure of an inter-rater agreement for
categorical scales when there are two raters, it is not considered reliable in case of small or skewed
populations similar to that used in this study. Therefore, the inter-observer reliability was analyzed by
calculating Spearman’s correlation ranks.
3. Results
The data were not normally distributed; therefore, nonparametric tests were used to analyze the
data. The results from the handling test showed that both Obs-1 and Obs-2 reached 100% agreement
in evaluating the stockperson’s attitude when dealing with the animals, and the reactions of geese
Animals 2020,10, 890 6 of 10
to humans, in all the assessed farms. The mean prevalence values of the selected ABMs are given
in Table 2.
Table 2.
Mean (
SE) prevalence of geese (number of observations, n=100) within each ABMs category
assessed during animal inspection for Obs-1 and Obs-2 in all the inspected farms (n=12).
ABMs Observer 1 Mean (SE) Observer 2 Mean (SE)
Plumage dirtiness 31.66 (25.46) 44.25 (33.17)
Twisted wings 2.25 (2.05) 2.41 (1.78)
Broken wings 0 (0) 0.51 (0.26)
Broken/twisted wings 2.25 (2.05) 2.91 (2.23)
Feather irregularities 0 (0) 0 (0)
Feather pecking 0 (0) 0 (0)
Immobility 0 (0) 0 (0)
Only the ABMs with a mean value of prevalence >0 were analyzed to calculate the inter-observer
reliability. These were plumage dirtiness, twisted wings, and broken wings. The mean values were
consistent between observers for the considered ABMs with the exception of broken wings (Obs-1 =0;
Obs-2 =0.5). The prevalence of broken wings was very low for both observers, and a new measure,
“broken/twisted wings,” was created by merging broken and twisted wing observations.
The inter-observer reliability showed high correlation coecients for plumage dirtiness (
p<0.01; prevalence index =0.36), twisted wings (
=0.890; p<0.001; prevalence index =0.95),
and broken/twisted wings (
=0.858; p<0.001; prevalence index =0.95), with a balanced prevalence
for plumage dirtiness.
4. Discussion
In this study, we investigate the use of species-specific animal-based measures for the assessment
of goose welfare in commercial production systems. Currently, no other available research evaluates
the validity and the reliability of ABMs on commercially raised geese, while specific research on other
poultry species can be found in the scientific literature [6,7,31,32].
In the initial step, a list of relevant ABMs were selected from the literature and from available
science-based welfare assessment protocols for other meat poultry (e.g., Welfare Quality
protocol for poultry [
]). Some ABMs (broken bones and feather irregularities) were included to account
for expected dierences between geese and other poultry species, based on specific management
procedures aecting animal welfare (e.g., live-plucking [
]). As geese are commonly kept in social
groups in extensive or semi-extensive rearing conditions, and as they are large and have a flighty
nature, all the ABMs in the study were adapted to be applied with no or minimal handling of the birds.
The assessment of the human–animal relationship using specific behavioral tests is common in
protocols intended to evaluate animal welfare at the farm level [
]. As reported [
], the nature
of the interactions between stockpeople and farm animals is an important component aecting the
animals’ welfare: Positive interactions can reduce stress and fear in animals and increase productivity,
while aversive human–animal relationships may reduce their performance [
]. However, no specific
HAR tests have been validated for geese. In this study, we aimed to evaluate the HAR in commercially
raised geese using a handling test. A central characteristic for any measurement tool is consistency
in measurements when applied by dierent assessors [
]. According to our results, both Obs-1 and
Obs-2 reached a 100% inter-observer reliability in evaluating the human–animal relationship during
the handling test. In terms of feasibility, the test appeared to be practical when applied to farms,
where the stockperson moved a group of geese from one point to another in the home pen as they
would in daily management procedures.
The results for the ABMs assessed during the animal inspection were consistent across Obs-1 and
Obs-2 for plumage dirtiness, twisted wings, and broken/twisted wings (Table 2).
Animals 2020,10, 890 7 of 10
This study, however, is subject to some limitations. First, dierences were found across observers
for the prevalence of broken wings, and in a few cases for twisted and broken wings. Obs-2 had less
experience in welfare assessment using ABMs, and scored the two wing-related measures (twisted wings
and broken wings) similarly, thus reporting a low level of agreement with Obs-1 (an expert in the use
of animal-based measures). The interpretation of twisted wings may have been unclear, as they were
ascribed as broken by the less experienced assessor (Obs-2). Then, the inter-observer reliability of
broken wings was thus proven to be dicult to achieve, as extensive training was required to address
the lack of experience of Obs-2. Although the assessment was carried out by observers with dierent
experiences in assessing geese welfare by using ABMs, our findings confirm that on-farm training is
essential for achieving good reliability [35].
Our findings suggest that the high prevalence of plumage dirtiness can be related to poor litter
conditions, as supported by Saraiva [
], and hence provides information regarding goose welfare
at the farm level. The high SE values also suggest high variability among farms reflecting dierent
management conditions, particularly concerning housing design and litter management. The plumage
condition is important for thermoregulation, and when the feathers are wet or soiled by litter they may
lose their protective properties, thus having negative eects on the birds’ welfare [
]. In addition,
when the down is soiled by faeces or dirty litter, there may be negative consequences on its color,
which is an important factor aecting the down value.
Few studies have reported the prevalence of twisted wings in commercially raised geese [
According to our study, a small number of geese showed wing deformity. Our findings are supported
by Lyn, who reported that slight twisted wings returned to a normal position during 10 to 14 weeks
of age when secondary feathers reached full maturity [
]. Moreover, our study was conducted in
extensive or semi-extensive rearing conditions in which geese have access to pasture, which provides
them with all the required nutrients, and thus may not suer from vitamin deficiency and elevated
protein concentration in the diet, which are suggested causes leading to this deformity [18].
The prevalence of feather irregularities, feather pecking, and immobility was low because these
ABMs have never been found on the assessed farms. As pointed out by Burn [
], “the prevalence
of certain observations reduces the reliability ratings”. Therefore, when evaluating inter-observer
reliability, scientists should consider the prevalence of the dierent ABMs in the population assessed.
An unbalanced prevalence could lower the reliability statistics, and reporting the prevalence index
alongside other measures of agreement showed that for some ABMs the populations were too
homogenous for conclusive reliability ratings. Although feather irregularities, feather pecking,
and immobility have been identified as important measures for defining poultry welfare at the farm
level [
], the reliability for these ABMs was dicult to prove. However, our results suggest
an agreement between Obs-1 and Obs-2, as neither of them found any of these measures in any
assessed farms.
In the present study, the selected ABMs were identified based on key studies of animal-based
measures in commercial waterfowl and poultry production.
The lower prevalence of the selected ABMs compared to those in other poultry species may
indicate the better welfare conditions of geese, probably due to dierent housing and management
practices. All the assessed farms were free-range, and the geese could, therefore, express their natural
behavior (e.g., grazing and movement activity), and more space was available than in intensive farming
systems. High stocking density and poor environmental conditions are significant factors aecting the
welfare of poultry [32].
Despite the low frequencies of some measurements, the preliminary results of our study suggest
that the identified animal-based measures may oer a valid, reliable, and feasible tool for assessing the
welfare of geese in extensive or semi-extensive rearing conditions.
Future testing would require the selection of a more diverse geese population. This can be
achieved by including breeding farms, which nowadays tend towards intensive, closed conditions as
Animals 2020,10, 890 8 of 10
well as farms in dierent countries and geographical areas (e.g., China) where dierent husbandry
systems are applied.
5. Conclusions
As the initial step in the development of a specific welfare assessment protocol, this study is aimed
at identifying potentially valid, reliable, and feasible animal-based indicators applicable to the on-farm
welfare assessment of geese.
The handling test proved to be practical on farms, with the stockperson moving a group of
geese from a point to another in the home pen, as they would in daily management procedures.
Further studies are needed to assess the possible variation in the agreement between the observers and
to evaluate if the test is sensitive to fluctuations in the welfare status of geese among farms.
The inter-observer reliability was confirmed for three ABMs. Our results show that plumage
dirtiness, twisted wings, and broken/twisted may be valid and reliable measures of goose welfare.
Further studies can consider variations in reliability and verify if the selected ABMs are sensitive
enough for identifying and quantifying welfare dierences.
The low prevalence of feather irregularities, feather pecking, and immobility meant we could not
confirm their reliability.
The selected ABMs can be developed into a valid and feasible tool for the on-farm evaluation of
geese welfare, although adequate training is required to produce reliable data when used by dierent
observers, and further studies are needed to confirm reliability. In addition, the size of the sample
should be increased so the reliability ratings can be fully implemented, and to determine whether
possible dierences in frequency are due to the eect of the sample size or to the housing conditions.
Author Contributions:
Conceptualization, C.T., S.B. and E.C.; methodology, C.T., S.B. and E.C.; formal analysis,
M.M.; data curation, S.B., M.M. and C.T.; writing—original draft, C.T., S.B. and E.C.; writing—review and editing,
V.F., M.M., H.B., E.C., S.B. and C.T.; supervision, S.B. and C.T.; project administration, S.B. and C.T. All authors
have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.
Funding: This research received no external funding.
Acknowledgments: The authors wish to thank the farmers involved in the data collection.
Conflicts of Interest: The authors declare no conflict of interest.
Ethical Statement:
This study was conducted in agreement with the International Society for Applied Ethology
(ISAE) ethical guidelines without causing unnecessary distress to the animals.
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... Overall, there are few specific animal-based measures (ABMs) for the goose; in particular, there is a lack of tools to evaluate the welfare principle of Appropriate behavior. Recently, Tremolada et al. 11 proposed a feasible and effective welfare assessment protocol for geese, including a shortlist of ABMs, such as plumage condition, wings and ability to walk assessment, and a handling test. However, only a few studies have reported a complete behavioral ethogram for geese. ...
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Agroforestry systems, which are based on the integration of trees and animals, represent a useful practice for implementing the “One Welfare” concept. Geese could adapt well to these systems due to their kinetic and grazing abilities. However, the lack of specific ethograms and animal-based measures have not yet allowed a deep assessment of their welfare and behavior. The aim of this study was to develop and validate a protocol to evaluate the behavior of geese reared in two agroforestry systems (i.e., apple orchard and vineyard). Thus, a behavior observation form (BOF) including a specific ethogram was proposed, and its interobserver reliability, content, criterion and construct validity were determined. Moreover, the influence of the time of day and type of agroforestry system on geese's behavior was also investigated. Agreement and principal component analyses, as well as the comparison between data collected through direct observation by the BOF and indirect observation by a computerized system, supported the reliability and validity of the proposed protocol. While the BOF also highlighted differences in the behavior expressed by the geese according to the time of day and the environmental context, both the vineyard and apple orchard systems seem to meet their biological and behavioral needs.
... Social consciousness about the condition of rearing farm animals has become a major alarm in recent years 1 . The report of Tremolada et al. 2 indicated that animal welfare is a precondition for companies to develop high-quality and sound animal products for the world market. An important criterion in the assessment of ruminant welfare is their maintenance behaviour 3 which includes feeding, standing, walking, lying etc. Maintenance behaviour refers to activities such as ingestion of feed and water, comfort-seeking and behaviour related to rest or exploration, all of which typically function to maintain the physiological status, comfort and appearance of the animal. ...
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Background and Objective: The maintenance behaviour of farm animals is a veritable tool to measure the welfare of the animals. This study investigated the duration and frequency of feeding, lying, walking and standing of West African Dwarf goats, in responses to the diets containing incremental sodium humate. Materials and Methods: Experimental diets were formulated containing sodium humate at 0, 5, 7.5, 10 and 12.5 g kgG 1 diet (control, 5, 7.5, 10 and 12.5 HNa). Three animals in each experimental diet for 90 days were transferred to cages for behavioural observations. Video recordings from a 12 unit CP PLUS ® CCTV camera (Model: CP-ER-1606E2-T) were reviewed for behavioural parametersusing Boris ® software. The results were analysed using one-way ANOVA as outlined in SPSS. Results: The result reveals a quadratic increase (p<0.05) in the mean duration of feeding in the 7.5 HNa and 10 HNa groups. Feed intake and the mean duration of standing and walking were reduced (p<0.05) in the supplemented groups. The frequency of walking decreased (p<0.05) in the sodium humate groups. However, there was an increase (p<0.05) in the frequency of feeding and standing. Conclusion: It was concluded that sodium humate has the potential to improve the welfare of West African Dwarf goats under confinement.
... Outside the zoological industry, it is generally more common to investigate bird welfare at the group level. For example, a group-level study could investigate how different housing impacts bird welfare by assessing disease prevalence or the pervasiveness of injury across the flock, many times postmortem [12][13][14]. Group-level measures such as this could be advantageous for monitoring the welfare of larger flocks within zoos and aquariums. Across all industries, it is least common to assess bird welfare through emotional or affective states, which are defined as subjective states usually characterized as positive or negative and vary by arousal levels [9,15]. ...
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Animal welfare is a priority across accredited zoological institutions; however, historically, research has been prioritized for mammals. Bird-focused studies accounted for less than 10% of welfare research in zoos and aquariums over the last ten years. Due to the lack of scientific publications on bird welfare, zoo scientists and animal practitioners can look to other industries such as agriculture, laboratories, and companion animal research for insight. This qualitative review highlights findings across industries to inform animal care staff and scientists on the welfare needs of birds within zoos and aquariums. Specifically, the review includes an overview of research on different topics and a summary of key findings across nine resources that affect bird welfare. We also highlight areas where additional research is necessary. Future welfare research in zoos and aquariums should prioritize studies that consider a diversity of bird species across topics and work to identify animal-based measures with empirical evidence. Moving forward, research from other industries can help develop innovative research on bird welfare within zoos and aquariums.
... Studies on Ducks' welfare (Anas platyrhynchos, Cairina moschata and hybrids) have increased during the last decades as evidenced in recent reviews (Liao et al., 2021;Makagon and Riber, 2022), but detailed interlinks between INE system and welfare are just starting to be unraveled (Ismoyowati et al., 2018;Mohammed et al., 2019;Voit et al., 2020). Lastly, Geese (Anser anser and Anser cygnoides) are the less scientifically studied group, in which welfare is being explored since a decade (Scheiber et al., 2015;Tremolada et al., 2020;Voit et al., 2020) but INE components have not been characterized in relation to welfare yet. ...
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There is increasing societal concern regarding the negative impact of intensive poultry production on animal welfare, human health, and on the environment. This is leading to the inclusion of animal welfare as an imperative aspect for sustainable production. Certain environmental factors may challenge domesticated birds, resulting in poor health and welfare status. Resilience is the capacity to rapidly return to pre-challenge status after coping with environmental stressors, thus resilient individuals have better chances to maintain good health and welfare. Immune-neuroendocrine system, thoroughly characterized in the domestic bird species, is the physiological scaffold for stress coping and health maintenance, influencing resilience and linking animal welfare status to these vital responses. Modern domestic bird lines have undergone specific genetic selective pressures for fast-growing, or high egg-production, leading to a diversity of birds that differ in their coping capacities and resilience. Deepening the knowledge on pro/anti-inflammatory milieus, humoral/cell-mediated immune responses, hormonal regulations, intestinal microbial communities and mediators that define particular immune and neuroendocrine configurations will shed light on coping strategies at the individual and population level. The understanding of the profiles leading to differential coping and resilience potential will be highly relevant for improving bird health and welfare in a wider range of challenging scenarios and, therefore, crucial to scientifically tackle long term sustainability.
... To be classified as 'operational', OWIs need to be multi-faceted in nature, 29 provide insight into an aspect of animal welfare and be easy to use without requiring laboratory analysis, otherwise, they may not be used by individuals involved. 90,91 Suites of OWIs and welfare measurement methods have been developed for a range of animals such as equids, 92 livestock, 93-96 rabbits, 97 laboratory animals, 98 birds, 99,100 mammalian companion animals 101 and some species of food and cleaner fish. 13,92,[102][103][104] Existing welfare monitoring tools that use OWIs have created methods to quantify welfare, including allocating a score/grade to quantify welfare, 105 a ranking system, 106 OWIs have been created for food fish in aquaculture, 15,16 which aim to incorporate aspects of their physiology, morphology and behaviour as well as information about their environment. ...
The global ornamental fish trade is a multibillion- dollar industry, with legal trade esti-mated to be worth between $15 and 20 billion per annum. Although there is existing legislation concerning the improvement of fish welfare in aquaculture and research, there is little legislation surrounding the welfare of pet fish. The different phases of the ornamental fish trade, including curation, transportation, time spent at wholesal-ers/retailers and time spent in domestic/public aquaria, represent different welfare concerns. Within the animal welfare field there is increasing interest in improving wel-fare through the creation of operational welfare indicators (OWIs), where individual indicators are aggregated to assess animal welfare. OWIs can be morphological, be-havioural, physiological, metabolic or abiotic in nature, with behaviour often consid-ered as the foremost non- invasive method of elucidating welfare in fish. Currently, while OWIs exist for food fish species, there are no OWIs for use within the orna-mental fish trade. This review looks briefly at the stressors experienced by fish within the ornamental trade, and then used a systematic approach (keywords behavio* AND fish* AND welfare) to identify relevant publications investigating existing behavioural measures of welfare used for ornamental fish species. Finally, this review considers the potential development of OWIs for the ornamental trade.
... The attention of the scientific world has therefore focused on the selection of ABMs according to the species and the farming systems. However, most of the research has been conducted in European countries for animals such as pigs, poultry, ewe, and dairy cattle (Main et al., 2007;EFSA, 2012b;Cook, 2017;Munoz et al., 2018;Tremolada et al., 2020). Among farm animals, the camel was rarely involved in studies related to welfare assessment (Pastrana et al., 2020;Zappaterra et al., 2021) and an ad hoc protocol for its welfare assessment has only recently been proposed . ...
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Reliable and measurable animal-based measures (ABMs) are essential for assessing animal welfare. This study aimed at proposing ABMs for dromedary camels identifying their possible associations with management. Data were collected at a permanent camel market; a total of 76 pens and 528 camels were evaluated. ABMs were collected for each welfare principle (i.e., good feeding, good housing, good health, appropriate behavior), while resources or management-based measures were collected at three levels of investigations (animal, herd, or caretakers). Associations were calculated by generalized linear models. Body condition score and thirst index (ABMs of good feeding) resulted negatively associated with short caretaker’s experience, dirty bedding, limited shaded space, feeding and water space, and space allowance (P < 0.05). Resting behaviors and restricted movements (ABMs of good housing) were associated with short caretaker’s experience, dirty bedding and water, rationed water distribution, water points in the sun, and presence of hobbles (P < 0.05). Disease, injury, and pain induced by management procedures (ABMs of good health) were negatively associated with short caretaker’s experience, presence of hobbles, limited space allowance and shaded space, dirty bedding, and feeding and watering practices (e.g., frequency of distribution, resource quality, location of the troughs; P < 0.05). Response to approaching test and aggressivity (ABMs of Appropriate behavior) were negatively associated with limited space allowance, shaded, feeding and water space, and rationed water distribution (P < 0.05). Overall, the proposed ABMs seems to be appropriate indicators of welfare consequences in camels being able to identify factors related to housing and management practices that may impair or improve camel welfare.
... The attention of the scienti c world has therefore focused on the selection of ABMs according to the species and the farming systems. However, most of the research has been conducted in European countries for animals such as pigs, poultry, ewe, and dairy cattle (Main et al., 2007;EFSA, 2012b;Cook, 2017;Munoz et al., 2018;Tremolada et al., 2020). Among farm animals, the camel was rarely involved in studies related to welfare assessment (Pastrana et al., 2020;Zappaterra et al., 2021) and an ad hoc protocol for its welfare assessment has only recently been proposed . ...
Full-text available
Reliable and measurable animal-based measures (ABMs) are essential for assessing animal welfare. This study aimed at proposing ABMs for dromedary camels identifying their possible associations with management. Data were collected at a permanent camel market; a total of 76 pens and 528 camels were evaluated. ABMs were collected for each welfare principle (i.e. Good feeding, Good housing, Good health, Appropriate behaviour), while resources or management-based measures were collected at three levels of investigations (Animal, Herd or Caretakers). Associations were calculated by Generalized Linear Models. Body Condition Score and Thirst index (ABMs of Good feeding) resulted negatively associated with short caretaker’s experience, dirty bedding, limited shaded space, feeding and water space, and space allowance (P<0.05). Resting behaviours and Restricted movements (ABMs of Good housing) were associated with short caretaker’s experience, dirty bedding and water, rationed water distribution, water points in the sun, and presence of hobbles (P<0.05). Disease, Injury, and Pain induced by management procedures (ABMs of Good health) were negatively associated with short caretaker’s experience, presence of hobbles, limited space allowance and shaded space, dirty bedding, and feeding and watering practices (e.g. frequency of distribution, resource quality, location of the troughs)(P<0.05). Response to Approaching test and Aggressivity (ABMs of Appropriate behaviour) were negatively associated with limited space allowance, shaded, feeding and water space, and rationed water distribution (P<0.05). Overall, the proposed ABMs seems to be appropriate indicators of welfare consequences in camels being able to identify factors related to housing and management practices that may impair or improve camel welfare.
The study focused on the comparison of health of cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, rabbits, poultry and ostriches slaughtered in slaughterhouses in the Czech Republic based on the occurrence of findings detected during a postmortem veterinary inspection in the period from 2010 to 2019. The level of health was expressed as the so-called PA index obtained by the ratio of the number of findings to the total number of observations (15) during the pathoanatomical examination in the slaughterhouse multiplied by one hundred. Mammals (cattle, pigs, sheep and goats) generally had a higher PA index than birds (domestic chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, ostriches), with the exception of kids and rabbits. The highest PA index was found in cows (15.13) and piglets (12.18); whereas the lowest PA index was found in broiler chickens (0.102), rabbits, and geese (both 0.14). In poultry, the PA index values were below 1, with the exception of laying hens (PA index 2.165). A higher PA index was found in a group of adult animals (the PA index ranged from 2.17 to 15.13) and groups of young animals culled from farms (the PA index ranged from 10.79 to 12.18) than in fattened animals (the PA index ranged from 0.10 to 5.32). A comprehensive overview of the health condition of slaughtered animals enables the farmers, veterinarians, transporters and slaughterhouse operators to take appropriate and precisely targeted preventive measures, thereby increasing the animal welfare and health in the future while reducing the incidence of carcass damage.
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This study was conducted to determine the feather and foot pad dermatitis (FPD) quality of geese reared under barn and free-range production systems. A total of 216 geese were reared for 18 weeks. Feathers were assessed on different body parts using a 4-point scoring system. FPD was assessed on foot pads and webs.Wing and tail plumage condition were significantly better in the free-range system (P<0.01), whereas FPD quality were significantly better under barn conditions (P<0.01). The better plumage conditions found in the free-range system could be a sign of better animal welfare conditions in this system, which needs to be improved to reduce the associated levels of FPD.
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Previous research has shown that the transect walks (TW) method provide a practical and effective approach to welfare assessment in broiler and turkey farms. This method for turkey welfare assessment is reasonable in terms of time demands within minimal costs. Furthermore, TW approach resembles the routine checks used by farmers. The overall aim of this study was to verify the feasibility of the TW method as potential practical tool for on-farm welfare assessment in turkeys during the fattening period. A total of 14 commercial turkey farms (8 male and 6 female flocks) of the same genetic strain (British United Turkeys [B.U.T.] - Big 6) with similar management standard procedures were evaluated. Bird ages at evaluation ranged from 122 to 138 D and 90 to 103 D old, for males and females, respectively. Two independent assessors walked slowly on randomized longitudinal paths (transects) within each house, while recording the prevalence of birds showing any of the 12 welfare and health indicators considered: immobility, lameness, wounds, small size, featherless, dirtiness, sick, terminally ill, dead, and behavioral indicators, such as, aggression towards mate, interaction with humans and mating. The effect of assessor, gender, and interaction assessor by gender was evaluated by using ANOVA. Reliability of the method was noted by the effect of gender (P < 0.001) for immobility, lameness, wounds, and dirtiness indicators. Male flocks showed higher prevalence of immobility (0.035±0.004% vs. 0.004±0.001%), lameness (2.269±0.108% vs. 1.253±0.051%), wounds (0.288±0.014% vs. 0.127±0.009%), and dirtiness (0.050±0.004% vs. 0.022±0.004%) as compared to female flocks. Differences among assessors were relatively minor, with differences detected only for back and tail wounds, dirtiness, aggression towards mate, and interaction with humans. This study reports advantages and limitations of this method for welfare assessment on-commercial turkey flocks and it is the first description of the Italian welfare profile of turkey's commercial flocks.
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This review, which focuses on foie gras production from ducks in France, highlights welfare problems that may arise in the final (third) stage of production, when force-feeding occurs and which lasts 12 to 15 days. Welfare problems arising in the first two stages are also considered. The male mulard duck, a non-migratory hybrid between a muscovy drake (Cairina moschata) and a female domestic duck (Anas platyrhynchos), is used most frequently despite being fearful, nervous and maladapted to force-feeding conditions. During the period of force-feeding, mortality is 2 to 6%, higher than in fattening units for meat production. Welfare deteriorates markedly as ducks progress through the three production stages. Posture and gait abnormalities and wing lesions develop, and contact dermatitis is widespread and often severe. Oesophagitis and other injuries are documented. Steatosis and other liver changes are pathological and can limit duck survival. Group housing necessitates the use of crowd-gates to facilitate force-feeding of birds, which show aversive behaviour towards the force-feeder. Cages are small, with a mesh floor without litter or a rest area. Access to open water for bathing or full immersion of the head may be insufficient and make thermoregulation difficult. We conclude that forcefeeding causes very poor welfare in ducks and should not be practised. Should foie gras production without force-feeding become possible, duck livers should not reach a weight at which there are pathological effects. Inadequate housing and management conditions should be prevented by establishing limits for the prevalences of contact dermatitis (foot-pad and digits), breast lesions and gait abnormalities, which should not be exceeded prior to slaughter. Limits should also be established for the prevalence of wing and other body lesions after slaughter.
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The aim of the study was to characterize the sensory quality and physical traits of raw and heat-treated meat depending on the origin, sex and feeding of geese. The experiment used meat from domestic geese of southern varieties: Lubelska (Lu), Kielecka (Ki) and Subcarpatian (Sb), included in the conservation program. The experiment was carried out on a total of 192 birds divided according to origin (Lu, Ki and Sb), sex (M and F) and dietary treatment (DI - conventional feeding and DII - oat fattening). To evaluate the quality characteristics of meat, 16 birds from each group were selected. Sensory evaluation of raw goose muscles was at a good level of consumer acceptability and exceeded 4.0 points, ranging from 4.18 pts (appearance/Ki) to 4.59 pts (aroma /Sb) for breast muscles (BM), and from 4.17 pts (fatness/Lu) to 4.53 pts (aroma/Sb) for leg muscles (LM). In the case of heat-treated muscles the tenderness of the muscles of Lu geese have been characterized by high number grade (P≤0.05) for both the BM (4.87 pts) and LM (4.76 pts). Lighter colour (L*) (P≤0.05) was characteristic of the muscles of oat-fattened birds (44.25 for BM and 49.86 for LM) compared to the muscles of conventional feeding (39.77 for BM and 46.89 for LM). In addition, a significant (P≤0.05) effect of diet was also found on the value of the parameter a* (redness) and b* (yellowness). Parameter a* ranged from 10.45 (Lu) to 11.96 (Ki) for BM and from 13.28 (Ki) to 14.21 (Sb) for LM. In turn, the highest share (P≤0.05) of yellow colour (parameter b*) was demonstrated in the muscles of Ki geese - 4.87 for BM and 10.92 for LM. Male muscles were characterized by higher (26.34 mg% - BM and 24.37 mg% - LM) water holding capacity (WHC) than female muscles (27.23 mg% for BM and 25.28 mg% for LM respectively). Furthermore for BM of oat-fattened geese cooking loss was at the level of 10.50 %. The present study indicated that most of the sensory characteristics of meat (BM and LM) from geese of different breeds were affected (significantly at P≤0.05) by the diet. This concerned both raw and heat-treated meat. For raw breast muscles, a significant (P≤0.05) effect of sex was also found (with the exception of aroma). In turn, the quality characteristics of raw leg muscles (except for colour) were influenced (P≤0.05) by all the treatment factors. Analysis of the physical properties of meat showed that these parameters are mainly affected (P≤0.05) by the diet.
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The objective of this study was to evaluate the welfare of 64 different broiler farms on the basis of feather conditions and clinical scores measures collected at the slaughterhouse. A 3-point scale (0, 1 or 2) was used to classify dirty feathers, footpad dermatitis and hock burns measures, and a 2-point scale (present or absent) was used to classify breast burns, breast blisters and breast ulcer measures. Flocks were allocated into three body weight (BW) classes (A, B, C): class A (light) ≥ 1.43 and ≤ 1.68 kg, class B (medium) ≥ 1.69 and ≤ 1.93 kg; class C (heavy) ≥ 1.94 and ≤ 2.41 kg. The absence of hock burns was more common in class A, while mild hock burns was more common in class B flocks. Breast ulcer was observed in class C flocks. The association observed for mild hock burns, breast burns and severe footpad dermatitis can indicate a simultaneous occurrence of these painful lesions. Very dirty feathers and severe footpad dermatitis relationship suggest litter humidity to be the common underlying cause. In conclusion, it was shown that clinical indicators can be used at the slaughterhouse to identify welfare problems. In the flocks studied footpad dermatitis, feather conditions and hock burns were the main restrictions to good welfare and should be considered significant welfare indicators of the on-farm rearing conditions.
The Scientific Opinion on the practice of collecting feathers from live geese for down production concluded that removing feathers from live geese can be carried without causing pain, suffering or injury to the birds, if feathers are gathered. Gathering feathers from live geese is defined as removing feathers that are ripe due to the phenomenon of moulting and would never result in tissue damage. Plucking is the forcible removal of feathers that results in bleeding follicles and possibly other skin damage such as tears and bruising. The possibility that feathers are plucked cannot be excluded and it seems that at least minor suffering from pain and injuries is unavoidable under current commercial conditions. The process of catching, carrying and restraining the bird is the same whether feathers are gathered or plucked. Incorrect handling can include carrying the bird by the neck, legs or by one wing, restraining by sitting on the neck of the bird and throwing or dropping the bird. Bloody feathers, skin injuries, posture changes (e.g. hanging wings), dead birds and broken or dislocated bones are welfare-outcome indicators which could be used to assess the welfare of geese submitted to feather collection. It is recommended that only ripe feathers should be removed from live geese. A control system should be in place to ensure this is carried out in practice. The presence of skin tears and blood or tissue and the presence of non-ripe feathers in the collected feather material should be used to distinguish between plucking and gathering. Operators should be aware of good animal handling methods and the differentiation between ripe and unripe feathers. Further studies should be encouraged to improve the validity and reliability of welfare-outcome indicators. The method to evaluate the maturity of the feathers should be validated and further developed.
Man has been in interrelationship with wild water fowl for thousands of years. Yet, in that time, only two species of wild geese have been domesticated (13.3% of all true geese); the Greylag goose ( Anser anser ) in the fourth millennium B.C. and the swan goose ( Anser cygnoides ) in the second millennium B.C. From these two species, numerous breeds (181) have been developed. Compared to other domestic animals, the goose has varied less during domestication, aside from a few modifications in appearance, reproductive traits, internal organs and behaviour. It has increased in body weight, and hence became a non-migratory bird. Compare to the greylag goose (gander 2.8-4.1 kg, goose 2.5-3.8 kg body weight), the body weight of the Toulouse gander has increased by 331-421%, and the Toulouse goose by 286-364%. The African goose developed higher body weights (gander by 285-362%, goose by 292-311%) compared to the weight of the swan goose (gander 3.5 kg, goose 2.8-3.5 kg body weight). Conformation traits have changed, whereby the natural grey feather colour has changed to white in some breeds. Furthermore, sexual maturity has accelerated, and prolificacy increased. Egg production of a significant proportion of the European goose breeds has increased by 600-1000% compared to the greylag goose (5-6 eggs/goose). For example, egg production of the Chinese goose has increased by 875-1200% compare to the wild swan goose (5-8 eggs/goose), and the monogamous partnership typical of wild geese has turned into polygamous matings.
In recent decades, goose production has become more specialized and widespread, and rearing geese in wire-floor pens is common in China. This type of rearing pattern is more productive than other rearing patterns since it allows for more birds per square meter. However, it brings some problems due to high stocking density such as poor feather performance and walking ability, and some behavioral changes. This experiment was conducted to preliminarily evaluate the effects of different stocking densities on goose welfare in terms of feather performance, walking ability and behavioral changes. A total of 336 healthy, 28-day-old, male Yangzhou goslings were allotted to 30 plastic wire-floor pens according to five stocking densities (2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 birds/m²), adopting randomised block method. Each treatment was represented by six replicates. Feather performance was assessed by two types of measurements: back-feather damage rate, and feather contamination degree which was carried out by feather scoring. Walking ability was assessed by gait scoring. All birds in each pen were individually scanned for back-feather damage measurement at 42 days of age, and individually scored for gait at 68 and 69 days of age. One bird from each pen was randomly selected for feather scoring at 69 days of age. The higher the feather score and the gait score, the worse the goose welfare. From 60 to 65 days of age, three geese from each pen were randomly selected and tagged for behavioral observation. Results showed that when stocking density was 4 or more birds/m², standing on one leg (relaxing) behaviour reduced significantly (P ≤ 0.05); when stocking density was 5 or more birds/m², feather contamination degree (P ≤ 0.05) and preening behaviour (P ≤ 0.05) both increased significantly; when stocking density was 6 birds/m², the behaviours of lying and feather pecking, and back-feather damage rate all increased (P ≤ 0.05, for all), whereas walking ability declined, which was reflected by the increased proportion of geese with normal gait (P ≤ 0.05) and the decreased proportion of geese with gait problems (P ≤ 0.05). In conclusion, a high stocking density (5 or more birds/m²) led to an increase in feather pecking and poor performances in feather and walking ability, which were harmful to goose welfare and may decrease the quality of goose products. Therefore, based on our experimental conditions, we recommend that the stocking density of geese should be fewer than 5 birds/m² to ensure relatively good welfare and avoid negative effects. In addition, in our experiment, different stocking densities were in accompany with different group size, in the future, additional studies will be done to explore how stocking density and group size affect goose welfare.