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Animal welfare, behaviour, health and sustainability – the effects of feeding on reindeer and reindeer herding

Alternative title: Dyrevelferd, adferd, helse og bærekraftighet - fôring av rein og effekter på reinsdyr og reindrift

Awarded: NOK 12.0 mill.

Traditional Sami reindeer herding as we know it in Norway is about to change. Pastureland is being lost and climate change contributes to increased icing of winter pastures, making it difficult for reindeer to find enough food. At the same time, it is important for the herders to keep the number of animals stable to have a sustainable outcome. One strategy to cope with the situation is to feed the animals. One effect of this practice is that traditional reindeer herding is drifting towards husbandry and farming. This project will investigate how feeding of reindeer will affect animal welfare, health, food safety and the Sami culture and traditions. We want to conduct a questionnaire among reindeer herders, that will be supplemented by interviews. This is to document traditional knowledge on health and diseases and possible effects of different ways of feeding the animals, such as type and amounts of feed. We will also focus on the different reasons why reindeer herders are feeding. We will also document how reindeer, that are used to spend a lot of their time searching for food, are behaving when they are fed. To do this, we will attach GPS transmitters on reindeer calves to track their movement patterns during winter. This will be done in three herds in Norway and one in Sweden, having different feeding arrangements, varying from no feeding to feeding on a daily basis and year-around. The calves will be followed for three consecutive years, as ½, 1 ½ and 2 ½ years old. These calves, together with a larger number of animals from the same herds, will be sampled for the investigation of infectious disease agents, by obtaining blood samples and swab samples from eye, nose, mouth and genitalia. At the end of the project period, we will arrange regional seminars with reindeer herders and management people, to present the main results from the project. Results will also be disseminated through scientific papers, conference presentations and as popular science.

This project will investigate short- and long-term effects of supplementary feeding of semi-domesticated reindeer. Pastureland is being irreversibly fragmented due to socio-economic pressure, and reindeer herding is challenged by climate change, causing increased frequency of freeze-thaw and rain-on-snow events, and ice-covered winter pastures. Pasture limitations are increasingly mitigated by feeding, with traditional reindeer herding rapidly drifting towards husbandry and farming. We are lacking knowledge on how these changes may impact animal welfare, health and diseases, food safety and the Sami culture and traditions. We will document traditional knowledge on reindeer health and diseases and effects of different feeding regimes. We will improve the understanding of the relationships between herding and feeding practice and identify risk factors for disease outbreaks. Furthermore, we will evaluate impacts of feeding regimes on herding sustainability and cultural traditions. With a questionnaire survey to all reindeer pasture units (siidas) in Norway, we will compile traditional knowledge on reindeer feeding, health and diseases. Through cooperation with reindeer herders with different feeding regimes in Trøndelag and Sweden (controls; no feeding), Nordland (intensive feeding) and Finnmark (supplementary feeding only), we will equip 15 reindeer calves in each herd with GPS-collars and follow them in three consecutive years to reveal how different feeding regimes impact behaviour. The calves will also be sampled for the detection of exposure to potential reindeer pathogens. A broader sampling from the same herds will be conducted through necropsy of collected carcasses (animals dead on pasture) and from slaughter animals. As a follow-up of the questionnaire, socioeconomic drivers will be investigated through in-depth interviews. As a crucial element of dissemination, regional seminars with stakeholders and management authorities will be arranged.

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