Animal care verification requires the accurate evaluation and quantification of animal welfare. Assurance schemes typically rely on farm audits for animal care verification, which are time consuming, incur cost for the producer and can pose a biosecurity risk. One approach to increase the consistency and accuracy of monitoring animal welfare standards could be the monitoring of pig carcasses at slaughter for indicators of importance to animal welfare. The broad objective of Goal 4 of the NSERC Industrial Research Chair program in swine welfare is to evaluate the value of measuring animal-based indicators of welfare at slaughter to determine if this could be a viable method for a routine animal welfare monitoring system. Due to the large number of pigs slaughtered within Canada, the routine monitoring of indicators on carcasses would need to be automated to be a viable tool for the industry.
Several farms were visited to perform repeat animal care assessments. Per finisher barn, at least one transport load of pigs originating from a batch of pigs assessed on farm, was followed to slaughter. A video camera located on the slaughter line collected footage of the pig carcasses as they pass the camera after scolding and dehairing. Images of the carcasses were assessed for animal-based indicators of welfare, and used to train computer models for automated assessment of indicators.
Evaluating the ability to conduct camera-based assessment of animals at slaughter, paves the way for the development of automated animal welfare monitoring as a tool for the Canadian swine industry.