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Freedom to lie: How farrowing environment affects sow lying behaviour assessment using inertial sensors

Thompson, Robin J., Matthews, Stephen, Plötz, Thomas, Kyriazakis, Ilias
Computers and electronics in agriculture 2019 v.157 pp. 549-557
analysis of variance, farrowing, mortality, nesting, piglets, prediction, sensors (equipment), sows, support vector machines
We address the use of accelerometery to automatically monitor lying behaviour in free-farrowing sows; due to their freedom of movement and the consequent increased variety of movements the sows are able to exhibit, the challenges in automating this are greater than in sows housed in movement restricting farrowing environments. The methodology developed was applied to two salient applications: that of farrowing prediction through detection of nest building activity, and comparison of maternal lying behaviour in conventional movement-restricting and free-farrowing systems. Two sensors were attached at both the front and hind end to each of eight periparturient sows. Movement behaviour was recorded for a period of five days around parturition. Activity transitions were classified by a Support Vector Machine classifier, using data from both sensors individually, and combined; classifier output was validated against ground truth annotations collected from video data. We draw conclusions about the benefits of using multiple sensors over a single sensor, as well as the suitability of different sensor locations on the sow. Activity classification was found to improve through the use of multiple sensors, with a mean F1 score (a measure of predictive performance between 0 and 1) of 0.84, compared to use of the front sensor alone (mean F1 = 0.49) and the hind sensor alone (mean F1 = 0.57). Activity transitions were classified using the dual sensor setup with a mean F1 score of 0.77. Using a threshold-based approach, taking transition frequency as an indicator of nesting behaviour, we were able to detect the onset of nest building with an average latency to farrowing of 11.1 (±4.65) hours, and an average of 1 premature detection per sow; however, the majority of these premature were in a particular sow. We draw comparisons between the lying behaviour of free-farrowing and restricted sows. Using a mixed-design ANOVA we found a main effect of farrowing environment on transition duration (p=0.003), peak acceleration (p=0.007) and rate of change in pitch (p=0.009). Improving the classification accuracy of sow activity transitions through the addition of multiple sensors allows for improved performance in applications such as farrowing prediction, which has the capacity to reduce piglet mortality through enabling farrowing supervision. Understanding how movement restriction affects the lying behaviour of farrowing sows has the potential to inform decisions regarding restriction of sows and development of free-farrowing environments.