AR Philosophy > Morality of AR > Speciesism - Index

Family bonds within farm animals

Raising young is a vital activity for all animals. Because of this, the mother animals have evolved to be very highly motivated to carry out natural maternal behaviour.

The same is true of the bond between mother and young, which is vital for the survival of the young.

Many observations have shown that building a nest is very important to female pigs and to hens. This drive has an obvious survival value, since piglets are born very small and dependent, and both the mother hen and her eggs are vulnerable during incubation.

Intensive farming has taken a huge toll on the natural social and reproductive lives of farm animals. Scientists are aware that their natural behaviour may be ill suited to the environment that they are kept in.

Farm animals are predisposed to behave in certain social ways that are not allowed in intensive farming.

The newly hatched chick is predisposed to imprint on a parental figure. The chick will have been born in a hatchery and will never see its mother. It will grow up with hundreds or thousands of other chicks of the same age.

The sow is predisposed to wean her litter gradually as they grow up. The piglet may be weaned and mixed with numbers of other unknown pigs at an age when it would still be spending a lot of time with the sow.

Females of many farm species are predisposed to select a mate based on certain attributes. Artificial insemination is now used for most breeding sows in Europe and most dairy cows in developed countries.


Hens have a very strong natural motivation to to lay their eggs in a nest. In the wild a hen may walk a considerable distance before she decides on a suitable place. She will then scrape a hollow and build her nest.

Research has shown that, every day, the millions of hens that are confined to cages without nestboxes experience a strong sense of frustration at not being able to find a nest.


There is evidence that mother-daughter relationships in cows continue long after the animals become adult.

On one occasion a young cow's first calf was born dead. After veterinary treatment she staggered away through fields to find her mother. The farmers found her lying at her mother's feet being licked and, apparently, comforted.


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