The paper discusses whether the methods of behavioural ecology (derived from studies of wild animals) may be used to identify and suggest solutions to welfare problems in animals farmed under extensive conditions. Behavioural ecology involves looking at the interplay between an animal's behaviour and ecology as it manoeuvres itself through the processes of survival and reproduction. The costs and benefits of the behavioural decisions an animal uses to solve ecological problems are measured in the currency of biological fitness. This functional approach to behaviour pays little attention to causation and development, a major limitation. There are many differences between the circumstances of wild and extensively farmed animals. Extensively farmed animals may be less under our control than intensively farmed animals and have more freedom to express and control their behaviour but they are not wild; natural and sexual selection are disrupted in many ways. Nevertheless, domesticated species often still have a rich repertoire of adaptive behaviour and in many situations behavioural ecological methods are applicable. When animals are kept under artificial conditions we hope that there is enough flexibility in their behaviour for them to adjust and survive. Behavioural ecological methods may be used to assess whether the conditions provided approach or exceed the range of those which the animals can handle without excessive stress. Particularly appropriate features to study include time budgets, foraging behaviour and diet, social relationships, and competition for resources.