Researchers determined that body cameras are a reliable tool to remotely assess welfare indicators in pig barns
By Jackie Clark
Researchers in Saskatchewan have found that body cameras are an effective tool for assessing pig welfare.
The project was initiated in 2019 by Dr. Yolande Seddon, assistant professor in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences within the Western College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan. Dr. Guiliana Miguel-Pacheco, a postdoctoral fellow in the same department, also works on the research.
“The aim of that project was to assess a large number of pigs on farms, and associate that information with data that we aim to collect from carcasses at the slaughterhouse,” Miguel-Pacheco told Farms.com.
The scientists were looking for “the best way to support our data collection,” she explained. “We came up with the idea of using a body camera, because we needed a tool that could provide images of pigs that are clear so that we could do animal welfare assessments remotely, but without the need of setting up a complicated system like a CCTV camera.”
When collecting data from many farms, using the body cameras for research can reduce travelling costs and biosecurity risk.
“Nowadays, in the COVID era, I think this tool is going to help,” Miguel-Pacheco added. Researchers can conduct remote assessments while adhering to public health restrictions.
The body cameras are “very light and it’s smaller than a credit card,” she said. The batteries last six hours.
Using the camera, the researchers measured the accuracy of a video assessment compared to an in-person welfare assessment
“The idea was to control for observer bias, as to whether the observer remembers what they saw on-farm,” explained Miguel-Pacheco. “The assessment that we used consisted of 16 indicators of pig welfare. … These indicators have been scientifically validated to provide meaningful information.”
For example, observer looked for fear of humans, and the presence and severity of tail or skin lesions because they’re associated with social stress and overcrowding.
“We found that yes, the video collected using the body cameras can be used to run the animal welfare assessment,” she said. “Were able to measure the indicators in the same way.”
Clear footage from the body cameras adequately captured pig condition and behaviour, providing “a valid and reliable approach,” she added. “We also identified that there was not a strong agreement between some observers, this may indicate that prior experience influences how they assess the pigs.”
That conclusion indicates that researchers may need to improve training for observers.
The technology could be useful for industry applications, for any “farmers or production managers who are interested in having access to good quality footage at any time,” Miguel-Pacheco said. Barn staff could use the body cameras to capture the condition of the animals, which could reduce veterinary visits and help managers monitor barn activities.
This research is funded by the National Science and Engineering Research Council, the University of Saskatchewan and industry partners. This project is part of the NSERC Industrial Research Chair in Swine Welfare.
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