My name is Grace Carroll and I am a PhD student studying at Queens University Belfast.
The project I am working on, PIGWELFIND, is a collaborative all-Ireland project with researchers in Teagasc, University College Dublin and Queens University Belfast. The aim of PIGWELFIND is to explore the potential of measures taken at meat inspection for use as an animal welfare diagnostic tool.
The positive association between animal welfare and productivity levels is being increasingly realised. Tail lesions for example have been found to be associated with reduced growth (Marques et al., 2012) and the spread of infection which can lead to secondary abscessation and carcass condemnation (Huey, 1996). Harley et al. (2012) found direct producer losses of €0.37 per pig slaughtered as a result of carcass condemnation. When indirect losses (e.g. reduced growth potential, medicines, processing of condemned meat) are considered, the financial implications are even greater (Harley et al., 2012). Welfare-related meat inspection information could be fed back to producers, informing herd health plans and providing an opportunity to improve animal welfare while simultaneously increasing productivity levels.
The main aim of my research is to determine whether the lifetime welfare of pigs is reflected in measures taken from the carcass. To do this, I assessed the welfare of several batches of pigs from 7 weeks of age to the week prior to slaughter. I then compared the carcasses of pigs with welfare issues in early life, later life and whole life, to the carcasses of those that showed no evidence of poor welfare on farm.
Initial results indicate that evidence of tail lesions and skin lesions acquired in both early and later life remain evident on the carcass in the form of visible tail lesions, short tails (in relation to original docked length) and healed (non-red) skin lesions. Fresh skin lesions were not associated with skin lesions acquired on farm, suggesting that these may reflect damage that occurred during loading, transportation or lairage.
As the concept of conducting welfare assessments on the carcass is relatively new, we also wanted to determine the effect that routine slaughter processes, such as scalding and dehairing, would have on the visibility of welfare-related carcass damage. Carcasses were scored for tail lesions, skin lesions and loin bruising immediately after exsanguination and again subsequent to scalding and dehairing. The findings from this study indicate that the visibility of tail lesions, loin bruising and severe skin lesions was significantly improved by these processes, suggesting that abattoir-based welfare assessments should be carried out after scalding and dehairing of the carcass.
Together, these findings strengthen the argument for the integration of welfare-specific measures into routine meat inspection processes.
For more information, see our poster at the International Pig Welfare Conference in Denmark. For any questions about our research you can contact me at gcarroll05 @ qub . ac . uk. This research is funded by the Research Stimulus Fund of the Irish Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine.
Harley, S., More, S. J., O’Connell, N. E., Hanlon, A., Teixeira, D. & Boyle, L. 2012. Evaluating the prevalence of tail biting and carcase condemnations in slaughter pigs in the Republic and Northern Ireland, and the potential of abattoir meat inspection as a welfare surveillance tool. Veterinary Record, 171, 621-+.
Huey, R. 1996. Incidence, location and interrelationships between the sites of abscesses recorded in pigs at a bacon factory in Northern Ireland. Veterinary Record, 138, 511-514.
Marques, B. M. F. P. P., Bernardi, M. L., Coelho, C. F., Almeida, M., Morales, O. E., Mores, T. J., Borowski, S. M. & Barcellos, D. E. S. N. 2012. Influence of tail biting on weight gain, lesions and condemnations at slaughter of finishing pigs. Pesquisa Veterinaria Brasileira, 32, 967-974.