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Early detection of health and welfare compromises through automated detection of behavioural changes in pigs

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Stephen Matthews, Dr Amy Miller, Jim Clapp, Dr Thomas Ploetz, Professor Ilias Kyriazakis



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Early detection of health and welfare compromises in commercial piggeries is essential for timely intervention to enhance treatment success, reduce impact on welfare, and promote sustainable pig production. Behavioural changes that precede or accompany subclinical and clinical signs may have diagnostic value. Often referred to as sickness behaviour, this encompasses changes in feeding, drinking, and elimination behaviours, social behaviours, and locomotion and posture. Such subtle changes in behaviour are not easy to quantify and require lengthy observation input by staff, which is impractical on a commercial scale. Automated early-warning systems may provide an alternative by objectively measuring behaviour with sensors to automatically monitor and detect behavioural changes. This paper aims to: (1) review the quantifiable changes in behaviours with potential diagnostic value; (2) subsequently identify available sensors for measuring behaviours; and (3) describe the progress towards automating monitoring and detection, which may allow such behavioural changes to be captured, measured, and interpreted and thus lead to automation in commercial, housed piggeries. Multiple sensor modalities are available for automatic measurement and monitoring of behaviour, which require humans to actively identify behavioural changes. This has been demonstrated for the detection of small deviations in diurnal drinking, deviations in feeding behaviour, monitoring coughs and vocalisation, and monitoring thermal comfort, but not social behaviour. However, current progress is in the early stages of developing fully automated detection systems that do not require humans to identify behavioural changes; e.g., through automated alerts sent to mobile phones. Challenges for achieving automation are multifaceted and trade-offs are considered between health, welfare, and costs, between analysis of individuals and groups, and between generic and compromise-specific behaviours.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Matthews SG, Miller AL, Clapp J, Plötz T, Kyriazakis I

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: The Veterinary Journal

Year: 2016

Volume: 217

Pages: 43-51

Print publication date: 01/11/2016

Online publication date: 28/09/2016

Acceptance date: 23/09/2016

Date deposited: 17/10/2016

ISSN (print): 1090-0233

ISSN (electronic): 1532-2971

Publisher: Elsevier B.V.


DOI: 10.1016/j.tvjl.2016.09.005

Notes: Open Access funded by Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. Under a Creative Commons license.


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Funder referenceFunder name
Innovent Technology Limited
RAFT Solutions Ltd
Zoetis UK Limited
Harbro Limited
101906Innovate UK
BB/M011364/1Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)