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Combining the 'eye of the stockman' and precision farming techniques to improve pig welfare

Title OriginalCombining the 'eye of the stockman' and precision farming techniques to improve pig welfare

Tail biting and aggression between pigs are injurious behaviours affecting health, welfare and productivity. Solutions to these problems have been researched extensively. Farmers play a key role in the effectiveness of the ‘standard recommendations’.

The project PigWatch develops animal based warning signals to identify and, if possible, predict outbreaks of tail biting or fighting on farm. This will allow farmers to respond to problems before they get out of hand. It includes precision farming techniques for detection of behavioural activity, and lesion detection based on presence of haemoglobin.

PigWatch uses animal-based measures to monitor tail biting and skin lesion incidence through routine automated data collection at the slaughter plant. The data will facilitate benchmarking between farms, and monitoring the effects of solutions over time. The technology is based on the analysis of digital images of live pigs and carcasses.
The pig farming community will be involved during the whole project, which helps to develop and disseminate the innovative techniques proposed.

Project website


Detailed Description

The project PigWatch responds to the pig welfare call, and aims to develop practical animal-based measures to avoid the pain, frustration and negative emotional states associated with the development of tail biting and aggression in finishing pigs. It will focus on measures for prediction on the farm, and for monitoring at the abattoir. Firstly, for individual farmers to be able to act quickly and effectively to avoid problems, it is essential that they can anticipate imminent injurious behaviour. This will allow for corrective actions before the problem gets out of hand.

Secondly, common definitions of injurious behaviour and common scoring methods are needed to benchmark the incidence of the behavioural problems across farms, and to help quantify the effectiveness of any remedial actions applied over time. Therefore, PigWatch will:

  • Provide different detection methodsfor early warning signals to help farmers remedy or prevent outbreaks of tail biting or fighting on-farm.
  • Generate routinely collected data at the abattoir on the status of tail biting and aggression on-farm to allow benchmarking and support measures for farms with relatively high incidences of problems.

The proposal centres on the involvement of pig farmers via focus groups. These groups will contribute to the identification of practical constraints and potential solutions at the start of the project. They will monitor progress and provide advice during the development phase. Finally, they will test the tools over a prolonged period by using the outcomes to identify and remedy problems with injurious behaviours.

PigWatch will thus deliver (1) farmer focus groups, linked with each other through an international network, (2) on-farm automated methods as well as an observation protocol for farmers to identify imminent behaviour problems and (3) an in-line detection system of lesions at the abattoir.

Financing/ Donor
  • Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office FSVO; ANIHWA ERA-Net
(Research) Program
  • Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office FSVO; ANIHWA ERA-Net
Project partners
  • Hans Spoolder, Wageningen UR Livestock Research (WLR)
  • Armelle Prunier, L'Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA)
  • Manuela Zebunke, Leibniz Institute for Farm Animal Biology (FBN)
  • Christelle Godin, Commissariat à l'énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives (CEA LETI)
  • Margit Dall Aaslyng, Danish Meat Reasearch Institute (DMRI)
FiBL project leader/ contact
FiBL project staff
Role of FiBL

FiBL will lead Task1.4: On-Farm application across countries. Leaf-lets on recognizing early signs of injurious behaviours will be creat-ed. FiBL will set up a Farmer Focus Group in Switzerland. Farmers will be trained to use animal-based measures to assess aggression and tail biting. In T1.1, they will help to develop protocols for visual scoring of behavioural warning signals. FiBL will contribute to T1.3 to assess lesions on farm with a multi-spectrum camera, and in lairage in T2.2.

Further information
  • Bonnet, S. and C. Godin. Method and device for the recognition of the position or movement of a device or a person, US Patent 8,301,575, 2012
  • Borggaard, C. et al. A new system for Sticking Control (‘VisStick’), paper from 57th ICoMST, Gent,
    DMRI Danish Technological Institute, 2011
  • De Jong, I.C., Gerritzen, M.A. ; Reimert, H.G.M. ; Fritsma, E. ; Pieterse, C. Automated measurement of foot pad lesions in broiler chickens, In: Proceedings of the 4th International workshop on the assessment of animal welfare at farm and group level, 10 - 13 September 2008, 2008, 32
  • De Jong, I.C. Evaluation Meyn Footpad Inspection system, Report / Wageningen UR Livestock
    Research, 713, 2013, 13 pp
  • Dippel, S. et al. Health and welfare of organic pigs in Europe assessed with animal-based parameters,
    Organic Agriculture , 4, 2014, 149-161
  • EFSA. Scientific report on the risks associated with tail biting in pigs and possible means to reduce the need for tail docking considering the different housing and husbandry systems, EFSA Journal, 611, 2007, 1-100
  • Godin, C., F. Prost-Boucle, A. Campagne, S. Charbonnier, S. Bonnet, and A. Vidal. Selection of the most relevant physiological features for classifying emotion, 2nd International Conference on Physiological Computing Systems PhyCS2015, 2015
  • Marzocchi, O. Routine tail-docking of pigs, Directorate general for internal policies. Policy department C: Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs, Petition 0336/2012, 2014, 41 pp
  • Nishidate, I., T. Maeda, K. Niizeki, and Y. Aizu. Estimation of Melanin and Hemoglobin Using Spectral Reflectance Images Reconstructed from a Digital RGB Image by the Wiener Estimation Method, Sensors, 13, 2013, 7902-7915
  • Spoolder, H., M. Bracke, C. Mueller-Graf, and S. Edwards. Preparatory work for the future development of animal based measures for assessing the welfare of pigs - Report 2: Preparatory work for the future development of animal based measures for assessing the welfare of weaned, growing and fattening pigs including aspects related to space allowance, floor types, tail biting and need for tail docking, TECHNICAL REPORT submitted to EFSA -, 2011
  • Sprigle, S. et al. Multispectral image analysis of bruise age - art. no. 65142T, In: M. L. Giger and N. Karssemeijer (eds.) Medical Imaging 2007: Computer-Aided Diagnosis, Pts 1 and 2. Proceedings of the Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers (Spie), No. 6514, 2007, T5142-T5142 Taylor, N. R., D. C. J. Main, M. Mendl, and S. A. Edwards Tail-biting A new perspective, Vet. J., 186, 2010, 137-147
  • Van de Weerd, H. A., and J. E. L. Day. A review of environmental enrichment for pigs housed in intensive housing systems, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 116, 2009, 1-20
Research area
FiBL project number 55254
Date modified 16.03.2020
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