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3D cameras help limit tail biting in pigs

A high-tech system which uses 3D cameras to spot tail movements in pigs could soon help farmers identify the early signs of tail biting, scientists in the UK have discovered.

Researchers at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) found that pigs hold their tails down against their body when tail biting is about to begin.

To identify if the response could be used to alert farmers to biting, scientists placed 3D cameras above feeders in hog pens to automatically measure whether pigs’ tails were up an curly, or held down.

In experiments using 23 groups of 29 weaner-grower pigs, animals with intact tails were closely monitored and their tail postures were measured.

When outbreaks were identified, enrichment was added to pens, and biters and victims were removed and treated.

Early action

The data collected showed that low tail detection increased before outbreaks and declined after an outbreak.

What’s more, the cameras’ accuracy in identifying tail posture (74% accuracy) meant that action could be taken as soon as this early warning sign was identified.

Lead author Dr. Rick D’eath from SRUC said tackling tail biting is a critical issue, as it can cause significant health and welfare concerns, and can lead to severe economic losses for farmers due to meat condemnation at slaughter.

“There are also unquantified on-farm costs as a result of the increased labor and veterinary treatments resulting from an outbreak,” he said.

“Tail docking of piglets is partly effective at reducing tail biting in later life, but is seen as an undesirable mutilation and its routine use is banned in the EU.”

Robust early-warning system

D’eath said the study, which was a collaboration between SRUC and organisations across the supply chain, including retailers and feed companies, had achieved everything the researchers had hoped for.

“The challenge for us now is to develop this promising technology into a robust on-farm early warning system that works on any pig farm,” he added.

The results from this early research, which has been published in scientific journal Plus One, will now be developed into a follow-on project which will collect data from more diverse pig farms, and test a prototype early warning system.

Grant Walling, director of science and technology at JSR Genetics — one of the partners involved in the study — said any tool that can help reduce or eradicate tail biting will benefit the entire supply chain.

“This technology has the potential to predict future victims so offers opportunities to update and include information within our selection strategies to reduce the incidence of tail-biting in future generations,” he said.

Full study



Posted on September 17, 2018

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