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Toward a multidisciplinary approach of relational practices in livestock

201309 - Toward a multidisciplinary approach of relational practices in livestock
Ethologists, sociologists, ergonomists and zootechnicians have developed the concept of “relational practices”, i.e. practices developed to improve the human-animal relationship in livestock.

Human-animal relationship is the core of breeders’ job

Nevertheless, its determinism and the factors of variation are not well known. It is however essential to understand them in order to find possible ways of improvement. Improving the relationship can indeed be beneficial in many ways:

  • for the efficiency of work,
  • the comfort and security of the breeder,
  • the personal satisfaction of people working with farm animals,
  • for animal welfare.

This go through a multidisciplinary approach associating social sciences, ergonomics, animal breeding and ethology that will allow to take into account both the point of view of the human and the one of the animals.

A multi-dimensional approach…

In the CASDAR 9111 « evaluation of welfare » project (Ministry of Agriculture), researchers studying human-animal relationship met together to confront their points of view and their methods. From the human point of view, scientists have previously analyzed the structure of the working time which is variable according to the livestock system, and the way humans perceive the animals (instrumental, communicative, affective). From the point of view of the animal, ethologists have developed tools to evaluate the reaction of animals when facing a human.


…but an individual relationship

Each breeder has his/her own perception of the animal and of his/her work, his/her organization, his/her habits at work, and all this impacts his/her behavior toward animals and thus his/her relationship with his/her animals. There are also internal factors specific to each animal, factors linked to the physical and social environment, which modulate his/her perception of humans. There are also factors linked to modalities and action mechanisms ofthe interactions between the human and the animals (attachment, familiarization, positive or negative reinforcements, habituation to human presence and contacts).

The concept of « relational practices » emerges

Taking into account simultaneously the perceptions of the human and of the farm animals to study their relationship leads to develop the concept of “relational practices” in livestock systems. These practices, that aim at improving the relation to the animal, could include the choice of reproductive animal that could transmit a positive reaction to humans, the use of sensitive periods favorable to the development of the bond (early age, weaning, …), the optimization of positive interactions, etc.

Researchers wish to develop a multi-disciplinary tool to evaluate and describe relational practices

This work will continue with the development of a multidisciplinary method of evaluation of the human-animal relationship that will be applicable on-farm. This method will have to be reliable, simple and fast to apply.
The use of this multidisciplinary tool will be a basis to diagnostics in farms. It will be a first step toward the development of advices in farms and trainings of our future farmers. This will allow to better take into account the needs of the animals and the human constraints, in order to create a good human-animal relationship that will benefits both to humans working in farms, and to the animals.

For more information

Boivin, X., Bensoussan, S., L'hotellier, N., Bignon, L., Brives, H., Brule, A., Godet, J., Grannec, M.L., Hausberger, M., Kling-Eveillard, F., Tallet, C., Courboulay, V., 2012. Humans and livestock animals at work: toward a multidisciplinary approach of relational practices. Inra Productions Animales 25,159-168.


Céline Tallet, UMR PEGASE (celine.tallet[at]
Xavier Boivin, UMR H (xavier.boivin[at]