Investigating novel biomarkers of welfare in swine

Biomarkers are objective and quantifiable characteristics of biological processes. There are many measures taken to evaluate acute experiences that influence animal welfare, such as measurement of cortisol, a hormone that increases in acute stress after aggression. There is currently a lack of reliable biomarkers that can provide information on longer-term welfare in farmed animals. Measurement of hormones within hair has been proposed as a method to evaluate stress over a longer-term. Another hormone of the HPA axis is dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). While less researched, DHEA is thought to have roles largely opposing those to cortisol. The cortisol:DHEA ratio has been suggested to be a superior biomarker compared to either analyte separately.

The objective of Goal 3 of the NSERC Industrial Research Chair program in swine welfare is to evaluate the use of measuring hormones in swine hair. Over a series of three experiments, the objectives of this goal will evaluate and validate the value of measuring cortisol and DHEA in swine hair as a measure of chronic stress, animal welfare, and of individual stress reactivity in pigs. The results of this work will help to conclude whether hair analysis is a useful tool for use by researchers and industry alike.

Investigating novel biomarkers of welfare in swine (full article)