My main research interest is the development of scientific approaches for the study of animals as whole sentient beings (i.e. as subjects rather than objects), bringing insights from philosophy of mind and social psychology and anthropology into the study of animal emotion. In collaboration with colleagues from SRUC and other institutes I have developed and validated a methodology for the study of animal expressivity (body language) and subjective experience, generally referred to as ‘Qualitative Behaviour Assessment’ (QBA). My research focuses on the application of this method as a practical tool for welfare assessment and management in farm, zoo, and companion animals. Research interests associated with this work are animal boredom and environmental enrichment.
Understanding animals as subjects should affect the social context in which we live with animals, and I am therefore also involved in social science and humanities activities and research, both at SRUC and other institutes. In this context my interest is how communication with animals, and sensitization to the (subtle) ways in which they express themselves, may lead to greater respect and better care for them. This interest was much enriched by the sabbatical year I spent in the department of social anthropology at the University of Aberdeen. I would like my work to contribute to a greater integration between natural and social sciences, and to a growing trust in relational forms of knowledge.
Selected research projects
Implementing Qualitative Behaviour Assessment (QBA) on farms Scottish Government WP2.2.7. Collaboration with livestock industry (OMSco) to develop QBA as farmer-driven tool for enhancing positive animal welfare on farms.
Apply QBA to the recognition of positive and negative ‘low activity’ states Scottish Government WP2.2.7. Research to better distinguish between positive and negative ‘low activity’ expressions such as relaxation/contentment and boredom/apathy. In collaboration with Dr Fritha Langford at SRUC.
Implementing QBA as a participative animal welfare management tool. SRUC/SFC KTE funding. Collaboration with The Donkey Sanctuary and Twycross Zoo to develop QBA for practical animal welfare monitoring and management.
Develop QBA as a tool for vet nurse practice and education. SRUC/SFC KTE funding. In collaboration with Kirsty Young and Karen Martyniuk at SRUC.
Develop QBA app for automated longitudinal data recording and analysis. SRUC/SFC KTE funding. In collaboration with SRUC senior programmer Tomasz Krzyzelewski.
I teach the subjects of Animal Cognition and Consciousness on the MSc in Applied Animal Behaviour and Welfare at the University of Edinburgh, and also on the on-line MSc in International Animal Welfare, Ethics and Law at the University of Edinburgh. I am an annual guest lecturer on the MSc in Holistic Science at Schumacher College, Devon (accredited by Plymouth University). I supervise MSc dissertation projects for these courses.
Annie Rayer Using Qualitative Behavioural Assessment to detect welfare in commercial poultry systems. Funders: FAI Farms. Second supervisor; primary supervision by Prof David Main and Dr Siobhan Mullan at the University of Bristol.
Minero, M., Dalla Costa, E., Dai, F., Murray, L.A.M., Canali, E., Wemelsfelder, F. 2016. Use of Qualitative Behaviour Assessment as an indicator of welfare in donkeys. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 174, 147-153.
Phythian, C.J, Michalopoulou, E., Cripps, P.J., Duncan, J.S., Wemelsfelder, F. 2016. On-farm qualitative behaviour assessment in sheep: repeated measurements across time, and association with physical indicators of flock health and welfare. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 175, 23-31.
Fleming, P.A., Wickham, S.L., Stockman, C.A., Verbeek, E., Matthews, L., and Wemelsfelder, F. 2015. The sensitivity of QBA assessments of sheep behavioural expression to variations in visual or verbal information provided to observers. Animal 9 (5), 878-887.
Wemelsfelder, F. 2015. How Pigs Talk: The Need for ‘Earthy Realism’. In: Kidd, I.J. and McKinnell, L. (eds). Science and the Self. Animals, Evolution, and Ethics: Essays in Honour of Mary Midgley. Routledge, Oxford. pp. 52-69.
Wemelsfelder, F. and Mullan, S. 2014. Applying ethological and health indicators to practical animal welfare assessment. OIE Scientific and Technical Review 33(1), 111-120.