Development of validated cognitive and behavioural indicators of welfare in pigs towards a predictive early warning system for poor welfare.

Lead Research Organisation: Queen's University of Belfast
Department Name: Sch of Biological Sciences

Abstract

Statistics, physics, engineering and psychology utilise a wide-range of methods that can be adapted for use as animal-based welfare measures if only they could be validated in a model animal system. Validated indicators could then be used to develop a predictive early warning system so that potential welfare problems can be detected and mitigated in advance. Previous research has shown pigs to be an ideal model system for such a project, showing significant welfare improvements when provided with enrichment, and extent of skin injuries sustained reliably indicating welfare state. In this study, categories of pigs of different welfare status will be created using both physical and environmental factors to develop and validate novel welfare indicators, based methods used in statistics, physics, engineering and psychology.
Large White x Landrace pigs will be kept in groups of 20 in one of two environmental conditions: (1) deep straw pen, and (2) part-slatted floor. A total of 800 pigs (10 batches of 4 groups of 20) will be observed for 6 week periods. CCTV video cameras will record the pens for 12 hours per day once a week throughout the experiment. Every pig will be individually marked so that they are identifiable from the camera. At intervals over the first 4 weeks, each pig will be assessed and given a 'welfare' score based on measures of injury (to body and tail separately). The 4 pigs from each pen with the highest average % body injury score will be the 'Low welfare' group and the 4 with the lowest average % score will be the 'High welfare' group. This will give four groups: (a) High welfare on deep straw; (b) High welfare on part-slatted floor; (c) Low welfare on deep straw; (d) Low welfare on part-slatted floor.
Before each trial starts, 5 pigs will be selected at random from each pen and will be trained and tested throughout the trial using 3 cognitive behaviour tests: cognitive bias (to determine the individual's level of optimism or pessimism), functional memory (to assess how well individuals can keep track of a pattern) and interval timing (to determine the perceived passage of time by different individuals). Cognitive bias has been shown to be affected by the welfare state of the animal. Functional memory and interval timing have not been utilised in animal welfare studies; this project will aim to validate these methods as new useful tools to assessing the impact of welfare on cognitive processing. In addition, the 4 pigs with the highest and lowest % injury from each pen will be tested using the three cognitive behaviour tests at the end of the trial. We will also record acoustic communication both within a pen and of selected individuals within a pen.
From the recorded video footage, each of the focal pigs will be retrospectively tracked and their behaviours recorded for differences in individual activity budgets over the course of the trial. In addition, a number of tools will be used to investigate the social group dynamics within each pen. Fractal analysis of movement and semi-hidden Markov-chain analysis will identify repeating sequences of behaviour, social network analysis will determine the relative positions of each pig within its pen network and the overall level of connectedness within the group, levels of clustering will be assessed to determine whether individuals in a pen are crowding together more than expected given the space available to them, and finally we will assess the levels of synchronous behaviour within each pen. We will analyse each of indicator to look for differences between the 4 stated group types.
Finally, a predictive statistical tool will be developed based on the entire data set, which can be used as an early warning system for welfare problems. The aim of the predictive model will be to predict which pens and which individuals within them, are likely to develop welfare problems at a later stage and hence permit mitigation strategies to be put in place.

Technical Summary

We propose to develop a range of novel, validated welfare indicators and a predictive statistical tool for use as an early warning system for aggression-related welfare problems. We will use pigs kept in different environmental conditions: high welfare (deep straw) and low welfare (part-slatted floor) as a model system. Each pig will be assessed and given a 'welfare' score based on measures of injury (to body and tail). The four pigs from each pen with the highest and lowest average % score will be the 'Low welfare' and 'High welfare' groups respectively. This will give four group types for comparison: (a) High welfare on deep straw; (b) High welfare on part-slatted floor; (c) Low welfare on deep straw; (d) Low welfare on part-slatted floor. We will use a series of novel cognitive indicators (cognitive bias, functional memory and interval timing tests) and quantitative behavioural indicators (Markov chain analyses, fractal analyses of movement, spatial clustering analysis, temporal synchrony analysis and social network analysis) and validate these against physical health indicators and a range of traditional, validated behavioural indicators of welfare. We will compare the group and individual level indicators for each of the identified four group types. Developing validated tools to assess animal welfare remains one of applied ethology's greatest challenges, so we have designed a wide-ranging experiment that will incorporate a large amount of detail from each animal that will be observed. Secondly, we will conduct risk factor analysis to formally investigate associations between different groups of indicators and injury status (looking at both aggression-related body injuries and tail biting injuries separately). Finally, we will develop a statistical tool as an early warning system for socially-induced injury, predicting which groups and which individuals within them are likely to have a welfare problem at a later stage.

Planned Impact

This project will be of interest to animal behaviour and welfare scientists, particularly those involved in developing and using welfare measures. Many individual aspects of this research are novel, for example cluster scores have not previously been investigated in pigs. In addition, the concepts of interval time and functional memory are relatively unexplored in the context of animal welfare science as a whole. These data, and the relationship between cognitive measures and quantitative assessments of animal welfare, will also be of interest to psychologists. However, perhaps the greatest impact in terms of the novelty of this proposed project lies in the combination of such wide-range of indicators at both the individual and group level. This will potentially provide a suite of validated and reliable welfare indicators applicable to pigs, with potential for application in other species also.

Data generated from this research (both from on-farm research work or generated through statistical analyses) will be made available online through a university shared area. Links to this online data resource will be provided in all published papers and communications. The raw data will allow other researchers to verify our findings or apply different models to the data.

This research is also highly relevant to policy makers at national, European and global level. There is an increasing interest in developing welfare measures that are animal-based and repeatable, and in developing early warning systems for poor welfare, and the development of such a system is one of the principal objectives of this project. This not only applies to government policy makers, but also to retailers, quality assurance schemes and welfare charity organizations. The implications of being tail bitten on behavioural indicators of welfare will also be assessed as part of this research. This will provide useful information for competent authorities and government advisory staff that may assist in enforcing pig welfare legislation in relation to providing environmental enrichment. Furthermore, as this project will produce and openly share a large and varied dataset, we believe this will contribute considerably to designing the implementation strategies for putting welfare into practice. One of that one of the main current set-backs in terms of animal welfare policy is the lack of data that is readily available for use in meta-analyses and risk assessments (for example, conducted by the European Food Safety Authority for the European Commission). This means that quantitative assessment of welfare priorities by bodies such as the European Commission are rarely achieved in practice, although this would be far preferable to the qualitative, opinion-led assessments that priorities are currently assessed on. This could lead to priorities that are based more directly on science.

Research findings will be communicated to industry and government representatives, and to the wider scientific community, through published papers and at conferences, through press releases (the university has a dedicated press centre for publicising research conducted at Queen's University Belfast) and the university website. Findings will also be communicated directly to Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) policy and advisory staff through annual 'link' meetings, which Co-Investigator Niamh O'Connell chairs. Likewise, findings will be communicated to the European Commission through the European Food Safety Authority, with whom the Principal Investigator Lisa Collins frequently acts as an Expert on various working groups.

Publications

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Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
BB/K002554/1 01/03/2013 27/10/2013 £314,230
BB/K002554/2 Transfer BB/K002554/1 28/10/2013 27/02/2016 £260,603
 
Description This is a 36 month award, which started in March 2013 while the PI was based at Queen's University Belfast, and continued when she moved to the University of Lincoln in October 2013. At the time of the move, data collection had been underway for five months, with a further 12 months of data collection to go. As such, the findings from this initial stage of the project (BB/K002554/1), where the PI was based at Queen's University Belfast, should be considered within the second part of the award (BB/K002554/2), where she was based at the University of Lincoln.

For a full description of the discoveries and developments from this award, please refer to the report for the conclusion of this grant, at the University of Lincoln (BB/K002554/2).
Exploitation Route As this report represents just the first half of this award, please refer to the second report for a full outline (BB/K002554/2).
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink

 
Description To date, results from this award have been discussed in a number of forums, at international and national conferences, with members of the pig industry and pig industry representatives, and has received an enormous amount of media coverage in the form of print, online, radio and television coverage. The total media outlets reporting on work coming out of this award is in excess of 1000, and includes some of the major news and media channels internationally (e.g. New York Times, New Scientist, Nature, The Times, The Guardian, BBC world service, BBC radio 2, BBC local radio (over 20 different stations), RTE). We were invited to appear in a dedicated section on pig personality and pig welfare (inspired by work from this award) on BBC 1's flagship show 'Countryfile' in August 2016. This received hugely positive feedback from the general public for being interesting, informative and fun, and had an audience size of over 10M viewers. We have also appeared in public fora in other ways, e.g. the British Science Festival, 2014, where Lisa Collins used early findings from this study in her science communication prize public lecture (British Science Association Charles Darwin Award) on What can maths tell us about animal feelings, she was also invited to present a University of Lincoln Great Minds lecture (previous speakers include Prof Lord Martin Rees, Prof Lord Robert Winston and Baroness Susan Greenfield). Following from this, Lisa Collins was invited to be a guest lecturer in the successful Maths Inspiration theatre shows for years 11, 12 and 13 students (http://www.mathsinspiration.com). In this series of public talks, Lisa presented 'Pigs, Chickens and Criminals', a lecture which discusses some of the findings from this study and draws comparisons between the way we use maths to look at animal behaviour and what these approaches tell us about human criminal behaviour. These lectures were given to large audiences of up to 1000 students at a time. In addition to this, Lisa was Keynote Speaker at the University of Oxford Maths Institute 'It All Adds Up' outreach conference (January 2016) and a guest lecturer at the Prince's Teaching Institute Autumn Residential for mathematics teachers (October 2015). Lisa presented a Royal Institution Lecture (July 2018) on Special Agent Supermath, using examples from ModelPig and PigSustain projects. Lisa and Mary appeared on BBC4's Secret Life of Farm Animals in 2019 demonstrating puzzle solving and personality. In 2020, Lisa is Section President of Food and Agriculture for the British Science Association. Lisa Collins and Lucy Asher have been offered a book contract with CABI to write the first textbook on Animal Welfare Epidemiology. This uses examples drawn from this award to support various chapters throughout the book. It is due for publication in 2021. In line with milestones on our Pathways to Impact document, we have also organised and hosted the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour Winter conference 2014 on a relevant theme to this grant of 'Individuals in Groups'; two of the award team presented work at this meeting (Kym Griffin and Mary Friel), and a further two team members chaired the meeting (Lisa Collins and Lucy Asher). The conference attained the highest attendance numbers in the history of the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour conferences, with almost 400 attendees on both days (the typical attendance is 150-200). In Summer 2016, we hosted a stakeholder workshop at the University of Lincoln for representatives of the pig industry, policy-makers, charities and academia, who attended a one day meeting to discuss the research project in detail, hear from industry experts and academics working in the area, disseminate our results and discuss future directions, next steps and potential future collaborations. We hosted 25 stakeholders for this meeting. Findings from this work have also been used to support additional grant applications to a total of approximately £3.5M on pig welfare (Collins in collaboration with Bennett, U. Reading; Birkin, U.Leeds; Edwards & Hajat, LSHTM; Allinson, U.Lincoln; APHA; and industry partners), chicken welfare (Asher in collaboration with McElligott, QMUL), automated measures of welfare (Collins and Asher in collaboration with Codling, U. Essex and Amory, Writtle College), flock health in free ranging broilers (Collins in collaboration with Cooper, Butter and Goddard, U. Lincoln) and Campylobacter in chickens (Collins in collaboration with Goddard and Pearson, U. Lincoln; Williams, U. Liverpool and Moy Park). These applications have been highly successful, with £2.06M to Collins for PigSustain, which developed directly out of part of this grant and which will be working closely with industry over the next 4 years to investigate resilience in the UK pig industry and to develop the ideas seeded in this award into a commercially usable health detection system, £800k to Asher for an Innovate UK grant developing ideas initiated here in this grant and applying them to chicken welfare, and £800k to Collins, Goddard and Pearson for an Innovate UK bid on Campylobacter in chickens, using some of the statistical methods developed in this grant.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description BBSRC DTP iCASE studentship
Amount £100,000 (GBP)
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2017 
End 09/2022
 
Description Department for Employment and Learning Northern Ireland PhD studentship funding
Amount £75,000 (GBP)
Organisation Government of Northern Ireland 
Department Department for Employment and Learning Northern Ireland (DELNI)
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2013 
End 06/2016
 
Description Innovate UK
Amount £800,000 (GBP)
Organisation Innovate UK 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2015 
End 07/2018
 
Description International Partnering Award Scheme - USA
Amount £50,000 (GBP)
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2018 
End 06/2021
 
Description Newcastle University fellowship
Amount £300,000 (GBP)
Organisation Newcastle University 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2015 
End 05/2020
 
Description PIGSustain: Predicting the Impacts of Intensification and Future Changes on UK Pig Industry Resilience
Amount £1,681,835 (GBP)
Funding ID BB/N020790/1 
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2017 
End 01/2021
 
Description The uterine environment and its association with transgenerational performance in pigs
Amount £100,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Leeds 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2018 
End 08/2021
 
Description SRUC aggression study 
Organisation Scotland's Rural College
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Vocalisation characterisation analysis and personality testing for aggression in pig studies being conducted.
Collaborator Contribution Access to study site, study animals and equipment. Assistance with running behaviour tests and
Impact Paper published in 2019 - Friel M, Kunc HJ, Arnott G, Camerlink I, Turner S & Collins LM. Vocalisations predict tendency to aggression in pigs. Further paper in development which will be submitted in 2020 - Stringer-Calvert G, Kunc HJ, Arnott G, Camerlink I, Turner S & Collins LM
Start Year 2014
 
Description BBC Four Secret Life of Farm Animals 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Lisa Collins and Mary Friel featured on the BBC's Secret Life of Farm Animals on 20th December 2018 at 8pm - An episode focused on pigs and their excellent foraging skills, showing how intelligent they are with a series of puzzles.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0001ky3/secret-life-of-farm-animals-series-1-episode-3
 
Description BBC Radio Leeds Interview - Chinese New Year / Year of the Pig 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Dr Mary Friel and Dr George Sorensen spoke to BBC Radio Leeds about the behavioural characteristics of pigs and the research at the University of Leeds Farm. This was tweeted by the journalist and the tweet alone has had over 3,000 views
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description British Science Festival award lecture 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Lisa Collins presented the 2014 British Science Association Charles Darwin award lecture. British Science Festival, Birmingham, UK. This included a large research input from this grant.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Conference Chester 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Carroll GA, Boyle LA, Hanlon A, Collins L, Griffin K, Armstrong D and O'Connell NE 2015. Investigating physiological measures of lifetime welfare in slaughter pigs. In: BSAS proceedings, Chester, United Kingdom, 6 - 7 April, 2016, p. [Oral presentation]
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Conference Copenhagen 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Carroll GA, Boyle LA, Hanlon A, Collins L, Griffin K and O'Connell NE 2015. Validation of on-line slaughter checks as a pig welfare diagnostic tool. International Pig Welfare Conference (IPWC), Copenhagen, Denmark, 29 - 30 April 2015 [Poster presentation]
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Conference Florida 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Collins LM. 2015. Comparative Cognition Conference, Florida, USA. April 2015. Invited speaker.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Conference Ireland 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Carroll GA, Boyle LA, Hanlon A, Collins L, Griffin K, Armstrong D and O'Connell NE 2015. Evaluating the use of aggression-related skin lesion scores as a welfare assessment tool in growing-finishing pigs. International Society for Applied Ethology (ISAE) UK & Ireland Regional Meeting, Cork, Ireland, 11 November 2015 [Oral presentation]
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Conference Japan 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Carroll GA, Boyle LA, Hanlon A, Collins L, Griffin K and O'Connell NE 2015. What can carcass-based assessments tell us about the lifetime welfare of pigs? In: Ethology for sustainable society ISAE proceedings, Sapporo, Japan, 14 - 17 September 2015, p.49 [Oral presentation]
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Conference York 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Collins L. Finding the individual in the crowd. Oral presentation.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Conference organisation 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Organised ASAB Winter conference 'Individuals in Groups', Zoological Society of London, UK. This conference brought together experts from many different disciplines to discuss the issues around assessing individuals in groups.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Maths Inspiration shows 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Lisa Collins is an invited regular speaker on the Maths Inspiration theatre series. Highly successful national and international tour aimed at large audiences (up to 1000 students per show) of 15-17 year olds. Lisa Collins has reached over 5000 students reached to date. A large component of this talk is research from this grant.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015,2016
 
Description Press release for Friel et al 2016 paper 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact A press release was published relating to the publication of Friel et al (2016). This press release generated over 300 news stories worldwide in print, web, national and international radio and television reports. The estimated reach is in the region of 40-60M people worldwide.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://lifesciences.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/2016/06/30/whats-in-an-oink/
 
Description Prince's Teaching Institute 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Invited guest lecture on the maths of animal behaviour, featuring a large research component taken directly from this project. Audience included heads of mathematics from secondary schools around the UK.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015,2016
 
Description Re-run of experiment for BBC One's Countryfile 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact In August 2016 Lisa Collins and Mary Friel had a section on BBC One's highly acclaimed, extremely popular television show, Countryfile. In this section, which lasted a total of 20 minutes within a 60 minute program, LC and MF re-ran one of the experiments from this grant to demonstrate the key results on personality in pigs.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Scientist in Residence 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact For 2015-16, Lisa Collins was Scientist in Residence at Oundle School, Peterborough. This involved numerous workshops, lectures and discussions around farm animal health and welfare, and food security.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015,2016
 
Description Social media 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Project Twitter account (@PigAgress) and blog (https://modelpig.wordpress.com) were created and maintained throughout the project. Both will continue after the project ends.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013,2014,2015,2016
URL https://modelpig.wordpress.com
 
Description Television 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Lisa Collins featured as an expert on animal behaviour relating to behaviour development on Sky 1's Duck Quacks Don't Echo television show. Estimated reach of 0.4M viewers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016