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Animal Behavior and Welfare

Lab Overview

Pain management in farm animals – how to identify, measure, prevent and treat pain in disease and surgical procedures. Our main areas of research have been disbudding, castration and lameness (trimming).

How to effectively use behaviour for adequate and early recognition of disease and pain in farm animals.

Disease and its impact on animals’ welfare and performance. Our research focuses mainly on how disease can affect the wellbeing of animals.

Development of animal welfare assessment protocols to be applied on intensive and extensive systems of animal production. The protocols already developed are for intensively kept dairy cattle and dairy goats. The protocols for other production systems are currently being developed, including for dairy cows permanently on pasture (Azores Island)

Humans’ attitudes and actions may have a critical effect on animal welfare. Some of our studies include looking on how management, handling or training animals can impact their behaviour and welfare.

Consumers’ interest in knowing how, where and by whom food is produced and how animals are handled from “farm to fork”, has increased tremendously. By translating welfare science and ethics, through education and communication with farmers, veterinarians and consumers, we aim to improve standards for care and production of animals.




The work done  on pain in dehorning and disbudding is considered a reference in the scientific community. Current studies on pain alleviation during trimming, castration and dehorning, using topic local anaesthetics, are equally important because of their application in practice.

This Lab has been involved in some very important European projects on farm animal welfare. These include, for example,  AWIN – Animal Welfare Indicators (2011-2015) and the ongoing ANICARE projects. The protocol for the welfare assessment of dairy goats is available both in print and as a digital application (AWINGoat App), as also is a smartphone application for the management of lameness in dairy goats (Welgoat App).

The ANICARE project aims to produce didactic material to promote debate on animal welfare within the animal production community (farmers, veterinarians and students). These videos will present several features of animal husbandry and handling and discuss how they may affect welfare. The final material (videos) will be published and public available.

The lab has also been involved in the development of a protocol to assess the welfare of dairy cows at pasture as part of a programme called “Milk from Happy Cows” (S. Miguel, Azores). This activity has included training of assessors (including students from FMV), workshops with farmers and results’ analysis.


Selected Publications


Stilwell G., Schubert H., Broom D.M. (2014) Effects of analgesic use postcalving on cow welfare and production. Journal of Dairy Science. 97(2): 888-91.   

Vieira A., Brandão S., Monteiro A., Ajuda I., Stilwell G. (2015) Development and validation of a visual body condition scoring system for dairy goats with picture-based training. Journal of Dairy Science. 98 (9): 6597–6608. Selected as Editor´s choice in September 2015.  

Vieira, A., Oliveira, M.D., Nunes, T., Stilwell, G. (2015) Making the case for developing alternative lameness scoring systems for dairy goats. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 171: 94-100.  

Krug C, Haskell MJ, Nunes T, Stilwell G (2015) Creating a model to detect dairy cattle farms with poor welfare using a national database. Preventive Veterinary Medicine.122 (3): 280-286.   

Stilwell G (2016) Small ruminants’ welfare assessment dairy goat as an example. Small Ruminant Research.142: 51- 54  

Saraiva S., Saraiva C., Stilwell G. (2016) Feather conditions and clinical scores as indicators of broilers welfare at the slaughterhouse. Research in Veterinary Science.107: 75-79.  

Vieira A., Oliveira M.D., Nunes T., Stilwell G. (2016) Design and test of a web-survey for collecting observer's ratings on dairy goats' behavioural data. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 185: 52-58.

Can E., Vieira A., Battini M., Mattiello S., Stilwell G. (2016) On-farm welfare assessment of dairy goat farms using animal-based indicators: the example of 30 commercial farms in Portugal, Acta Agriculturae Scandinavica, Section A — Animal Science, 66: 1, 43-55.    

Pereira-Figueiredo I., Costa H., Carro J., Stilwell G., Rosa I. (2017) Behavioural changes induced by handling at different timeframes in Lusitano yearling horses. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 196: 36-43.   

Can E., Vieira A., Battini M., Mattiello S., Stilwell G. (2017) Consistency over time of animal-based welfare indicators as a further step for developing a welfare assessment monitoring scheme: The case of the Animal Welfare Indicators protocol for dairy goats. Journal of Dairy Science. 100 (11): 9194-9204.  


 Main Collaborations

Along the years we have  developed very close cooperation with numerous national and foreign research teams and institutions, namely:  University of Cambridge (Prof. Donald Broom), University of S. Paulo (Prof. Adroaldo Zanella), Scotland's Rural College (SRUC) (Prof. Cathy Dwyer) University of Milan (Prof. Silvana Mattiello and Prof. Elisabetta Canalli), University of Sydney (Prof. Peter Windsor), University of Guelph (Prof. Todd Duffield), University of British Columbia (Prof. Anne Marie de Passille and Prof. Jeff Rushen), Universidade Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro and Estação Zootécnica Nacional.

Collaboration was also strong with all institutions belonging to the AWIN consortium:Scottish Agricultural College; Norwegian University of Life Sciences; University of Milan, Department of Animal Science; NEIKER – Instituto Vasco de Investigacion y Desarrollo Agrario; Universidade Positivo, Curitiba, Brasil; Pferdeklinik Havelland, Equine Clinic; University of Cambridge; Institute of Animal Science, Uhrineves, Prague; Indiana University.

Ongoing close collaboration includes the ANICARE consortium: EPLEFPA de la Côte Saint André, France; Instituto Superior Técnico, Portugal; Escola Universitária Vasco de Gama, Portugal; Cooperativa Agrícola dos Agricultores do Vale do Lima, Portugal; Ruralidade Verde, Portugal; Ommpu Tonttu Luomutila, Finland; Federacion EFA de Galicia, Spain; Sens (Sciences, Energies, Nature, Santé), Belgium.

Researchers from our lab working with horses also collaborate with the association TheKidsFellows® Research Group in Anthrozoology.

As Member of the Management Committee of the COST ACTION FA1308 DairyCare, focused on dairy animal health and welfare, our lab also collaborated with animal science and technology researchers from almost all European countries.

There has been also research cooperation with commercial companies such as Animal Ethics (Australia), Tiveritas (UK), Zoetis, Bayer, Elanco and others.

Last but not least, because the lab’s main objectives are on the area of applied research on behaviour and welfare of farm animals, there has been always a very close cooperation with farmers and practitioners.