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Open AccessArticle

Farmer Perceptions of Pig Aggression Compared to Animal-Based Measures of Fight Outcome

1
Animal Behaviour & Welfare, Animal and Veterinary Sciences Research Group, Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), West Mains Rd., Edinburgh EH9 3JG, UK
2
Institute of Animal Welfare Science, University of Veterinary Medicine, Veterinärplatz 1, 1210 Vienna, Austria
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Teagasc, Pig Development Department, Animal & Grassland Research and Innovation Centre, Moorepark, Fermoy Co., Cork P61 C997, Ireland
4
Land Economy Environment and Society Research Group, Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), West Mains Rd., Edinburgh EH9 3JG, UK
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2019, 9(1), 22; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9010022
Received: 20 November 2018 / Revised: 20 December 2018 / Accepted: 7 January 2019 / Published: 10 January 2019
Aggression between pigs is a major animal welfare issue in commercial farming, however only a minority of farmers believe that aggression is a problem that needs to be addressed. We investigated whether the farmers’ reluctance to reduce aggression is linked to desensitization as a result of their frequent exposure to the behavior. We showed farmers video clips of pigs during and immediately after a fight and they judged through a questionnaire the severity of what they saw. These judgments were compared to (a) animal-based measures of injury (skin lesions) and exhaustion (blood lactate), and (b) human observers with and without experience of working with pigs. Farmers perceived fights as severe and were motivated to prevent them continuing. They were not desensitized to aggression as their judgments were similar to those of participants who had never worked with pigs. When farmers (and comparison groups) did not see the fight occurring, they judged exhaustion and injuries to be lower than indicated by the animal-based measures. Farmers could benefit from information on how to better assess the impact of aggression by scoring lesions and from evidence of the economic and welfare impact of these lesions.
Several animal welfare issues persist in practice despite extensive research which has been linked to the unwillingness of stakeholders to make changes. For example, most farmers do not perceive pig aggression to be a problem that requires action despite the fact that stress and injuries are common, and that several solutions exist. Frequent exposure to animal suffering could affect farmer responses to distressed animals. This study investigated for the first time whether this occurs, using pig aggression as a focus. Using video clips, 90 pig farmers judged the severity of aggression, level of pig exhaustion and the strength of their own emotional response. Their judgments were compared to objective measures of severity (pigs’ skin lesions and blood lactate), and against control groups with similar pig experience (10 pig veterinarians) and without experience (26 agricultural students; 24 animal science students). Famers did not show desensitization to aggression. However, all groups underestimated the outcome of aggression when they did not see the fight occurring as compared to witnessing a fight in progress. We suggest that farmers be provided with evidence of the economic and welfare impact of aggression as indicated by lesions and that they be advised to score lesions on affected animals. View Full-Text
Keywords: aggression; animal welfare; desensitization; perception; pigs aggression; animal welfare; desensitization; perception; pigs
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Peden, R.S.E.; Camerlink, I.; Boyle, L.A.; Akaichi, F.; Turner, S.P. Farmer Perceptions of Pig Aggression Compared to Animal-Based Measures of Fight Outcome. Animals 2019, 9, 22.

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