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Sheep ‘can read each other’s facial expressions’
Sheep are able to show a wide range of facial expressions, particularly those involving ear posture.
Research has important animal welfare implications

Sheep can distinguish each other’s facial expressions, according to new research, which has been described as an important discovery for animal welfare.

The study is the first to suggest that sheep can tell the difference between negative and neutral facial expressions. It is thought that if animals are able to perceive emotions in others, it is likely to affect their own emotional state.

Sheep do not have very developed oro-facial musculature compared to primates, but they are able to show a wide range of facial expressions, particularly those involving ear posture.

Researchers from Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) photographed sheep in three situations; their home pens (neutral), during social isolation (negative) and during aggressive social interactions (negative).

The sheep were then trained to associate one type of facial expression with a reward. Half of the sheep learned to associate the image of a negative facial expression with a reward, while the other half were trained to associate a neutral facial expression with a reward.

Once they had learned this task, they had to generalise the discrimination to new images of faces, displaying the same emotions. All sheep managed to learn the task.

Lead author Dr Lucille Bellegarde said: “This study showed for the first time that sheep are not only able to discriminate between facial expressions, but they are also able to perceive the valence – in other words, negative or neutral – of the expressions displayed.

“In terms of animal welfare, it is essential to be able to understand how emotions are perceived between animals reared in groups. Because this emotional perception is likely to affect their own emotional state, it might take just one happy – or unhappy – sheep to make an entire flock happy, or unhappy.”

The study has been published in the academic journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science.

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Vets save premature penguin chick

News Story 1
 Vets have saved a tiny Humboldt penguin chick after her egg was accidentally broken by her parents. Keepers at ZSL London Zoo were shocked to find the chick, named Rainbow, still alive and rushed her straight to the Zoo’s on-site veterinary clinic.

It was a little way to go until the chick should have hatched, so the process was touch and go. Vets removed bits of shell from around the chick with tweezers until she could be lifted out and placed in a makeshift nest.

Rainbow is now in a custom-built incubation room where she spends her days cuddled up to a toy penguin. Keepers will hand-fed Rainbow for the next 10 weeks until she is healthy enough to move to the penguin nursery.  

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BVA infographic to help shoppers understand farm assurance schemes

An infographic to help members of the public understand farm assurance schemes has been produced by the BVA. The infographic outlines BVA’s priorities for animal welfare and shows whether or not the schemes address these priorities in their standards.

BVA president John Fishwick said: “The infographic is not intended to be a league table but to allow people to understand what aspects of animal health and welfare are addressed by assurance schemes so that they can decide which scheme best aligns with their own individual preferences and priorities."