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)