Biomarkers Offer Potential as Animal Welfare Indicators

Farmscape for January 23, 2024

Full Interview 11:39 Listen

Researchers with the Western College of Veterinary Medicine are looking at the use of biomarkers as an indicator of animal welfare.

Biological markers are observable characteristics that can be measured to determine whether an animal is in a state of good health and well being. Research conducted through the NSERC Industrial Research Chair in Swine Welfare Research Program, which explored the potential application of biomarkers to assess swine welfare, was discussed as part of a forum held as part of the 2024 Banff Pork Seminar. arian Pollock, a PhD candidate in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences at the University of Saskatchewan’s Western College of Veterinary Medicine, says the objective was identify indicators of welfare, in the case of her work measuring chronic stress.

Quote-Darian Pollock-Western College of Veterinary Medicine:
We wanted to compare these physiological biomarkers so we were focussing on cortisol which is indicative of stress and another hormone called dehydroepiandrosterone or DHEA. We looked at those two physiological markers but we also wanted to compare this with productivity as well as behavior to see if they were related to each other as kind of a cross validation. We raised pigs in two different environments and this was done in two different studies. We looked at pigs that were either reared with straw or without straw and we collected hair and this was used to measure the hormones. Hormones incorporate into the hair as the hair grows. We can shave the hair, take it back to the lab and see the hormone levels within the hair over a long period of time.

Pollock says there were no differences in hair hormone concentrations in the groups raised with or without straw but there were some behavioural differences, including indications of more aggression in the group reared without straw and some minor increases in skin lesions, no differences in productivity but there was a considerable amount of individual variation.

Full details on this work can be accessed through For more visit Farmscape.Ca. Bruce Cochrane.

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