Validation of carcass lesions as indicators for on-farm health and welfare of pigs

N. van Staaveren*, B. Doyle, E.G. Manzanilla, J.A. Calderón Díaz, A. Hanlon, L.A. Boyle

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Incorporating indicators for pig health and welfare at meat inspection could reduce the need for on-farm assessments. Skin and tail lesions are important welfare indicators in pigs with good potential to record during meat inspection and could possibly function as iceberg indicators of on farm welfare. The aim of this study was to validate the use of these carcass lesions at meat inspection for the assessment of pig health and welfare on farm. Thirty-one farrow-to-finish pig farms (~12% of Irish herds) were assessed using an adapted version of the Welfare Quality protocol by inspecting 6 randomly selected pens of pigs in the first weaner (4 to 8 wk), second weaner (8 to 13 wk) and finisher stage (13 to 23 wk). The average prevalence of welfare outcomes for each stage was calculated. One batch of pigs was observed at slaughter and skin and tail lesions were scored according to severity for each carcass. The average prevalence of carcass lesion outcomes was calculated for each farm. Linear regression models were developed to predict the prevalence of each welfare outcome in each stage based on the prevalence of the different carcass lesions. The welfare outcomes of different welfare aspects that were best predicted by abattoir information (highest R2) were poor body condition (first weaner stage), bursitis (second weaner stage), huddling (first weaner stage), severe tail lesions (finisher stage) and coughing (second weaner stage). Regression trees and receiver-operating curves (ROC) were used to evaluate the usefulness of carcass lesions as monitoring tools. Receiver-operating curves were created using the 75th percentile to classify farms as a problem farm for these welfare outcomes. Cut-off values of predictive carcass lesion prevalence were similar using both techniques. Models for predicting problem farms with poor body condition, bursitis and severe tail lesions were moderately accurate. Sensitivity and specificity ranged from 75 to 100% and 70 to 87%, respectively at the optimal cut-off value of the predictive carcass lesion prevalence. Results show potential for using carcass skin and tail lesions as iceberg indicators of pig health and welfare on farm. Future work is needed to evaluate the cost of including carcass lesion recording at meat inspection, the cost of failing to identify problem farms and the cost of incorrectly visiting or penalizing problem farms before carcass lesions can be used as welfare indicators in a commercial setting. © 2017 American Society of Animal Science. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1528 - 1536
JournalJournal of Animal Science
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2017
Externally publishedYes


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