Animal Welfare & Animal Health

Animal welfare is about more than just good health, and animal health is not only about physical health but also about mental health. An animal's welfare is considered to be good if it is able to actively adapt to its living conditions and feels good as a result. Whether or not an animal feels good can be inferred from its behaviour, physiology, resistance and injuries. This requires knowledge of natural behaviour. The Louis Bolk Institute is conducting scientific research and demonstration projects to safeguard the health and welfare of farm animals.

Animal welfare & animal health is reflected in behaviour

Good health in animals is in all our best interests. It is a precondition for animal welfare, which can be deduced from how animals behave. An important indicator is the absence of abnormal behaviour, such as tongue-twisting in calves, tail-biting in pigs and feather pecking in poultry, as such behaviour may cause injuries and increases the risk of infections. The presence of positive, natural behaviour, such as playing, searching for food or sunbathing with congeners, is an indication of well-being.

Animal welfare & animal health in new livestock farming systems

In order to make the global food production more sustainable, new farming systems are emerging, with a new role for well-known farm animals as well as different types of feed and new animal species. Such changes require research into the welfare and health of the animals involved. This refers, for example, to new feed crops, the use of young cattle, dry cows and oxen in nature management, and the welfare and health of 'new' farm animals such as insects.

One health: animal welfare & animal health and society

Ensuring animals are physically and mentally healthy is a precondition for keeping animals. The welfare and health of production animals is not only important for the animals themselves, but also for the health and quality of our own food and our environment; the OneHealth approach.

Measuring animal welfare & animal health

Animal welfare and health can be measured in various ways (e.g. behaviour, physiology, injuries). We do most of our research on farms or pilot farms and prefer to use non-invasive research methods.

Opinion paper: Measuring livestock robustness and resilience: are we on the right track? 

Studying what has an effect on animal welfare & animal health

Depending on the question, we will choose the most appropriate method, from literature research to data collection to interviews or a combination of some or all of these options. We identify problems and/or solutions and give advice on these subjects. We contribute to the development of husbandry and animal housing systems that promote natural animal behaviour. We also investigate possible new challenges that may arise, and study the influence on animal welfare and health from changes in housing and management. We also investigate ways of keeping animals healthy while using less antiparasitics, and study how animals can best be prepared for the conditions of production. For example, by outdoor access from an early age, or by comparing different breeds with respect to their suitability for outdoor grazing systems or those with a higher groundwater level. Besides research on the animals themselves, we also pay attention to the housing environment of the animals in relation to their health. For example, we are researching the design of poultry runs and the management of grassland and grazing for cattle, sheep and goats, to minimise the risk of parasite infections, amongst other things. In nature-inclusive agriculture, we are looking at the opportunities and constraints of agricultural nature management and landscape elements and their relationship with the presence of certain viruses and parasites.

Possible risk factors for keel bone damage
Feather pecking in laying hens
Schade door roofvogels bij uitloopkippen
Lichtintensiteit en dierenwelzijn bij melkgeiten

Broad expertise, close to everyday practice

Naast wetenschappelijk onderzoek doen we demonstratieprojecten, waarin we veelbelovende maatregelen samen met boeren op voorbeeldbedrijven uitproberen en inzichtelijk maken In addition to scientific research, we carry out demonstration projects, in which we try out promising measures together with farmers and provide insight into the workings of such measures and what would be involved in implementing them. Our broad expertise in biology, zootechnology, animal nutrition, animal behaviour, animal ecology and of grazers in natural areas enables us to approach problems or situations from various angles and to come up with creative and practice-oriented solutions.


Our projects originate from questions posed to us by farmers, government authorities or other organisations. We are open to any question from anyone. Together with the one asking the question, we look at whether the answer already exists somewhere, or if research or a demonstration project would be more appropriate. Where necessary, we can also look at funding possibilities. We share our knowledge during online or in-person meetings and congresses, and during excursions with livestock farmers, as well as in brochures and scientific journals.

Some of our projects and publications on animal welfare & animal health: