Dr Rick D'Eath

Scotland's Rural College

Research Interests

As a behavioural scientist, I study behaviour as a way of measuring Animal Welfare, and to understand and solve welfare problems which involve behaviour in captive animals, particularly farmed livestock.

My research interests include:

    • The study of individual differences in animal behaviour (animal personality), in particular applied to damaging social behaviour in pigs.
    • On farm measurement of health and welfare and relating welfare to the wider policy context of livestock farming.
    • Using animal motivation and preferences to assess welfare, in particular applied to the problem of animal hunger.

      I studied Biological Sciences at the University of Oxford in 1993 (BA 1st class) and stayed on there to do my DPhil "Social recognition of flockmates in laying hens" supervised by Dr Marian Dawkins.

      I then worked as a post-doctoral research scientist at SLU in Sweden with Dr Linda Keeling before taking up my present position at SRUC.


      I teach scientific methodology (primarily simple statistics), molecular genetics of behaviour and supervise dissertation projects (which are usually published) for the Edinburgh University MSc Applied Animal Behaviour and Welfare. I also teach on the Edinburgh University MSc International Animal Welfare, Ethics and Law.

      Current Research

      Damaging social behaviour in pigs

      I have worked for several years on the question of aggressive social behaviour in pigs. I work closely with my SRUC colleague, Dr Simon Turner, on this area. We are interested in the role of development and genetic factors in pig aggression, and in the feasibility of commercial selection for reduced aggression. We currently co-supervise a PhD student Suzanne Desire, on a project called “Genomic and environmental dissection of social aggressiveness and feeding behaviour in pigs”. The main supervisor of which is Prof Rainer Roehe at SRUC, with further co-supervision from Dr Andrea Wilson at Roslin, and Craig Lewis at pig breeding company PIC/Genus.

      Also in relation to aggressive pigs, Simon and I work with Dr Gareth Arnott at SRUC on a BBSRC-funded project “Understanding assessment strategies during aggressive encounters in pigs to improve welfare following regrouping” which aims to understand better whether pigs are using information about their own fighting ability compared to that of their opponent to make decisions during fights.

      I also collaborate with Dr Simone Meddle at the University of Edinburgh (Roslin Institute) on the neuroendocrine aspects of the control of pig behaviour, including aggressive behaviour and more recently on mounting behaviour.

      Scottish Government WP5.3 'improved livestock production' provides funding for ongoing work on social behaviour in pigs, and for investigating the problem of mounting behaviour in finisher pigs. I am also interested in tail-biting in pigs, and have reviewed this topic and collaborate with colleagues from the Danish Pig Research Centre, Copenhagen University and MTT in Finland.

      Welfare on farm and how welfare fits in the wider food policy landscape

      This work involves developing and validating measurement and sampling methodologies that work on a farm scale. Scottish Government WP6.3 'animal welfare' funds current work on developing on-farm welfare measures in dairy cows based on the EU Welfare Quality protocols, and relating welfare to productivity and environmental impact in collaboration with Dr Marie Haskell at SRUC. In related work, I am also interested (with Alistair McVittie) in the way in which Animal Welfare fits into the wider policy landscape affecting livestock production, and how it fits with an ‘Ecosystems Services’ framework, funded by Scottish Government.

      Measuring hunger and enhancing satiety

      Hunger is an issue in restricted-fed animals (e.g. broiler breeders and sows). I am interested in using animal choices and motivation as a welfare assessment tool (previously applied to laboratory rabbits), and also to explore the possible welfare benefits of alternative diets (i.e. qualitative rather than quantitative restriction). I have two main projects in this area:

      • A BBSRC funded project “Investigating how the type and quantity of food affect foraging behaviour and the neural circuits controlling feeding in broiler breeder chickens” in collaboration Laura Dixon, Vicky Sandilands and Oluyinka Olukosi at SRUC, with Ian Dunn at Roslin Institute, Tim Boswell at Newcastle University, Sarah Brocklehurst at BioSS and with input from poultry breeding company Aviagen, makes use of new behavioural and neurobiological measures of hunger that we developed as part of a Defra funded project, in order to try to develop more satiating diets. My former UFAW funded PhD student on hungry broiler breeders Louise Buckley is now working at Harper Adams.
      • I also have an interest in diet choices and satiety in rats, humans and sows (food quantity vs energy density trade-offs) in collaboration with Julian Mercer, Alex Johnstone and Michelle Murphy at  the Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health. Scottish Government WP6.3 'animal welfare' funds work on diet choices and satiety in rats, humans and sows.

      Selected Publications

      • Hintze, S. Scott, D. Turner, S. Meddle, S.L. D´Eath, R.B. (2013) Mounting behaviour in finishing pigs: Stable individual differences are not due to dominance or stage of sexual development. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 147 (1-2): 69-80
      • Murray, L.M.A, Byrne, K., D’Eath, R.B. (2013) Pair-bonding and companion recognition in domestic donkeys, Equus asinus Applied Animal Behaviour Science 143(1): 67-74
      • Buckley, L.A., McMillan, L.M., Sandilands, V., Tolkamp, B.J., Hocking, P.M., D’Eath, R.B. (2011) Too hungry to learn? Hungry broiler breeders fail to learn a T-maze food quantity discrimination task. Animal Welfare 20(4): 469 - 481
      • D’Eath, R.B., Conington, J., Lawrence, A.B., Olsson, I.A.S., Sandøe, P. (2010) Breeding for behavioural change in farm animals: Practical, economic and ethical considerations. Animal Welfare 19(S) 17-27
      • D'Eath, R.B., Turner, S.P., Ison, S.H., Lawrence, A.B., Evans, G., Thölking, L. Looft, H., Kurt, E.; immers. K., Murani, E., Klont, R.; Foury, A. and Mormède, P. (2010) Pigs’ aggressive temperament affects pre-slaughter mixing aggression, stress and meat quality. Animal 4 (4): 604-616
      • D’Eath, R.B., Roehe, R, Turner, S.P., Ison, S.H., Farish, M., Jack, M.C. and Lawrence, A.B. (2009) Genetics of animal temperament: aggressive behaviour at mixing is genetically associated with the response to handling in pigs. Animal 3(11): 1544-1554
      • D’Eath, R.B., Tolkamp, B.J., Kyriazakis, I. & Lawrence, A.B. (2009) ‘Freedom from hunger’ and preventing obesity: The animal welfare implications of reducing food quantity or quality. Animal Behaviour 77: 275-288. Full Text
      • Seaman, S. C., N. K. Waran, G. Mason and R. B. D'Eath (2008). "Motivation of female laboratory rabbits to access a platform, social contact and food in a closed economy." Animal Behaviour 75(1): 31-42. Full Text
      • Harris, A.P. D’Eath, R.B. & Healy, S.D. (2008) Sex differences, or not, in spatial cognition in albino rats: acute stress is the key. Animal Behaviour 76: 1579-1589. Full Text