Charles Sturt University
Charles Sturt University

Associate Professor Raf Freire

Associate Professor Raf Freire

BSc (Hons) Bristol, PhD Edinburgh, Grad Cert in University L&T (CSU)

Raf coordinates the subjects VSC112 Animal Behaviour and Welfare, ASC225 Assessment of Animal Welfare and ASC525 Domestic Animal Behaviour. Raf spent five years as a post-doctoral researcher at the Veterinary School at Bristol University before spending two years with the USDA's Animal Research Services in Indiana. He took up a research, then lectureship position at UNE Armidale in 2003.

Raf's principle research interest is in the behaviour and welfare of poultry (he discovered the use of a magnetic compass in domestic chickens in 2005) and he has published over 40 papers in peer-reviewed journals, but more broadly has interests in animal behaviour and welfare across all domestic species.

Top of page


Research Interests

Raf has a broad interest in animal behaviour and welfare of domestic animals, having studied mice, chickens, sheep and horses in a wide range of environments. Raf's focus has been on understanding complex behavioural systems, such as cognition, pain behaviour, abnormal behaviour and behavioural needs and assessing the impact of husbandry practices on animal welfare.

A hot blade is routinely used to beak trim chickens.Pain Behaviour

Many livestock species are subjected to routine management practices with the potential to cause acute or chronic pain. Pain behaviour is a critical measure of animal pain which serves to evaluate welfare as well as leading to a better understanding of pain perception in vertebrates. By combining observations and tests of pain behaviour with the use of local analgesics, we can reveal the subjective experience of animals and identify the pathways involved.

Animal motivation and cognition

Test arena used to reveal magnetic compassTest arena used to reveal object permanence

Test arenas used to reveal magnetic compass (Left) and object permanence (Right) in the chicken.

Animal motivation tells us what animals want, and animal cognition tells us about the mental experiences of animals. Both are, therefore, critical in revealing situations in which welfare is severely compromised. Raf's research focuses on cognition and orientation in chickens and is in collaboration with Christine Nicol (University of Bristol), Ursula Munro (University of Technology, Sydney), Wolfgang Wiltschko (JW Goethe University, Frankfurt) and Nigel Urwin (CSU).

Horse behaviour and welfareHorses in a Paddock

In conjunction with Petra Buckley (CSU), Jonathan Cooper (University of Lincoln) and Paul McGreevy (University of Sydney), they aim to provide evidence-based solutions to pressing horse welfare behavioural and welfare problems. Horses housed in stables show a number of abnormal behavioural patterns, such as crib-biting, weaving and wind-sucking which are increasingly recognised as a welfare problem. Currently, the prevalence of abnormal behaviours within the Australian performance and recreational industries is unknown. Additionally, there is concern that current trends in the use of grain diets, reduced stable sizes and social isolation- factors known to trigger abnormal behaviour- may be having a detrimental effect on horse welfare.

Top of page

Top of page


Research Publications

Johnson J, Collins T, Degeling C, Fawcett A, Fisher A, Freire R, Hazel S, Hood J, Lloyd J, Phillips C, Stafford K, Tzioumis V and McGreevy P (2015). First Shared Online Curriculum Resources for Veterinary Undergraduate Learning and Teaching in Animal Welfare and Ethics in Australia and New Zealand. Animals, 5, 395-406.

Pollard-Williams S, Doyle RE and Freire R (2014). The Influence of Workplace Learning on Attitudes toward Animal Welfare in Veterinary Students. Journal of veterinary medical education, 41(3), 253-257.

Munro U, Luu P, DeFilippis L and Freire R (2014). Ontogeny of magnetic orientation in chickens (Gallus gallus domesticus). Journal of Ethology, 32, 69-74.

Talbot S, Freire R and Wassens S (2014). Effect of captivity and management on behaviour of the domestic ferret (Mustela Putorius Furo). Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 151, 94-101.

Doyle RE, Freire R, Cowling A, Knott SA and Lee C (2014). Performance of sheep in a spatial maze is impeded by negative stimuli. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 151, 36-42.

Freire R and Cowling A (2013). The welfare of laying hens in conventional cages and alternative systems: first steps towards a quantitative comparison. Animal Welfare, 22, 57-66.

Walcott A, Wassens S, Wilson A and Freire R (2013). Frog breeding in rain-fed wetlands after a period of severe drought: implications for predicting the impacts of climate change. Hydrobiologia, 708, 69-80. Freire R, Dunston E, Fowler EM, McKenzie GL, Quinn CT and Michelsen J (2012). Conditioned responses to magnetic anomaly in the Pekin duck (Anas platyrhynchos domestica). Journal of Experimental Biology, 215, 2399-2404. 

Freire R, Dunston E, Fowler EM, McKenzie GL, Quinn CT and Michelsen J (in press). Conditioned responses to magnetic anomaly in the Pekin duck (Anas platyrhynchos domestica). Journal of Experimental Biology, in press.

Walcott A, Wassens S, Wilson A and Freire R (in press). Frog breeding in rain-fed wetlands after a period of severe drought: implications for predicting the impacts of climate change. Hydrobiologia, in press.

Freire R, Swain DL and Friend MA (2012). Spatial distribution patterns of sheep following manipulation of feeding motivation and food availability. Animal: An International Journal of Animal Bioscience, 6, 846-851.

Denzau S, Kuriakose D, Freire R, Munro U and Wiltschko W (2011). Conditioning domestic chickens to magnetic anomaly. Journal of Comparative Physiology A, 197, 1137-1141.

Freire R (2011). Ethical advantages of using domestic bird species for magnetic orientation research. Communicative and Integrated Biology, 4, 1-2.

Freire R, Eastwood MA and Joyce M (2011). Minor beak trimming in chickens leads to loss of mechano- and magneto-reception. Journal of Animal Science, 89, 1201-1206.

Freire R and Birch TE (2010). Conditioning to magnetic direction in the Pekin duck (Anasplatyrhynchos domestica). Journal of Experimental Biology, 213, 3423-3426.

Top of page