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Identifying physiological measures of lifetime welfare status in pigs: exploring the usefulness of haptoglobin, C- reactive protein and hair cortisol sampled at the time of slaughter

Carroll, G. A., Boyle, L. A., Hanlon, A., Palmer, M. A., Collins, L., Griffin, K., Armstrong, D., O’Connell, N. E.
Irish veterinary journal 2018 v.71 no.1 pp. 8
C-reactive protein, animal health, blood serum, cortisol, haptoglobins, rearing, skin lesions, slaughter, swine, tail
BACKGROUND: Physiological measures indicative of the welfare status of animals during rearing could form part of an abattoir-based animal health and welfare assessment tool. A total of 66 pigs were used in this study, the aim of which was to assess how serum concentrations of haptoglobin (Hp) and C-reactive protein (CRP) (assessed in 51 pigs), and hair concentrations of cortisol (assessed in 65 pigs), measured at or close to slaughter, reflected welfare-related indicators recorded from the animal during its lifetime. These indicators were recorded at intervals between 7 and 21 weeks of age and included assigning scores for levels of tail and skin lesions, recording the presence or absence of certain health issues, and conducting qualitative behavioural assessments (QBA). RESULTS: Pigs recorded as having tail lesions during their lifetime had higher hair cortisol levels than those with no tail lesions (tail lesions: 47.87 ± 3.34 pg/mg, no tail lesions: 42.20 ± 3.29 pg/mg, P = 0.023), and pigs recorded as having moderate or severe tail lesions had higher Hp levels than those with no or mild tail lesions (moderate/severe: 1.711 mg/ml ± 0.74, none/mild: 0.731 mg/ml ±0.10, P = 0.010). Pigs recorded as being lame during their lifetime tended to have higher hair cortisol levels than non-lame pigs (lame: 52.72 pg/mg ± 3.83, not lame: 43.07 pg/mg ± 2.69, P = 0.062). QBA scores were not associated with any of the physiological measures (P > 0.05). Receiver Operator Curve (ROC) analysis was also carried out to get a better understanding of the usefulness of the physiological measures in discriminating animals that had had welfare-related issues recorded during their lifetime from those that had not. Hair cortisol was determined as having ‘moderate’ accuracy in discriminating pigs that were tail bitten on-farm from unbitten pigs (AUC: 0.748) while Hp and CRP were determined to have no meaningful discriminatory ability (AUC < 0.600). CONCLUSION: This research should be repeated on a larger scale, but the results suggest that hair cortisol measured at slaughter could provide insight into the welfare status of pigs during their lifetime. Hp may be a useful indicator of tail lesions in pigs. However, further research utilising a greater proportion of severely bitten pigs is required before conclusions can be drawn.