NSERC Industrial Research Chair in Swine Welfare
NSERC Industrial Research Chair in Swine Welfare
(306) 966-7151
WCVM, UofS, 52 Campus Dr., Saskatoon, SK

NSERC Chair Objectives

Pigs Early Life

Goal 1: Contribution of early life management to pig robustness, sociability and welfare

The early life period (birth to 12 weeks) is a sensitive period in which piglets undergo rapid developmental processes that have long-lasting impacts, including the development of social skills, eating behaviours, stress responsiveness and fearfulness. Rearing pigs in enriched environments pre-weaning can improve post-weaning growth rate, immune responsiveness, and meat quality. Targeted management at this critical stage of life may be important for the future health, welfare, and productivity of pigs. This research will identify how early life management practices influence the adaptive responses of pigs, the interlinking relationships between the pig’s adaptation to weaning, the development of eating behaviours, how this influences gut health and in combination, the longer-term welfare outcomes for the pig in the fully-slatted indoor system.

Importance of the work

Findings will contribute to the knowledge of early life management of pigs in fully slatted systems during sensitive periods of development and will i) contribute to understanding the development of welfare issues from birth to slaughter; ii) identify the lasting effects of weaning stressors; and iii) identify the lasting beneficial effects of manipulating early life development in the pig through adoption of supportive management on welfare, stress resilience and production performance.

Play Behaviour

Goal 2: Promotion of play to increase physiological and psychological robustness

Play is expressed in pigs in the absence of fear, pain, and illness and therefore the expression of play suggests that welfare is good. Play is also a natural behaviour that helps in the development of social skills and preparing for unexpected events. Enhancing play behaviour during critical periods of early life development could be used to produce pigs that are more socially tolerant and less fearful of novelty. If play is enjoyable and rewarding to pigs, performance may support greater positive mental states, contributing to the quality of life in pigs. While it has been possible to induce greater expression of play in pigs, little is known about the most effective means to promote play under commercial husbandry conditions, and additionally, whether it is possible to support play expression in older pigs, beyond the period of natural expression (four to 12 weeks). This research explores the ability of both environmental and cognitive enrichment to stimulate play and positive affect in pigs reared in intensive husbandry systems. The biological response of pigs will be measured to determine if the promotion of play can help to support resilience to stress and disease. The ability of play to increase positive emotional well-being in farmed swine will be evaluated through measures of affective state.

Importance of the work

Identifying methods to effectively stimulate play behaviour in growing pigs, as well as the potential physiological benefits will expand our current understanding of swine welfare into the realm of supporting positive experiences in pigs, and the factors that affect it throughout the production cycle. This knowledge will improve pig welfare in commercial husbandry conditions and may improve production performance.


Goal 3: Identify and validate biomarkers of welfare state in growing swine.

Biomarkers are objective, quantifiable characteristics of biological processes. Identifying biomarkers that could measure chronic states of stress and long-term positive emotional well-being in animals has the potential to provide information on how certain husbandry systems or management practices influence the longer-term welfare of swine. The measurement of stress-related hormones such as cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) in swine hair offers a promising new tool for the measurement of chronic stress and long-term welfare, whereas other approaches such as the monitoring of consumption behaviours could offer a measure for real-time monitoring of swine welfare.

Importance of the work

Having quantifiable and reliable tools available to support the objective measurement of animal welfare is important to employ new tools for industry and production practice. Improved monitoring of animal welfare provides data to support the constructive debate on animal welfare advancement between different stakeholder groups, as well as collecting data for verification of animal welfare standards for animal care programs.

Carcass Welfare Indicators

Goal 4: Carcass-based indicators of welfare: Linking abattoir data to live animal measures

A carcass can tell a story of what has happened in the pig’s life. Things like tail biting or lesions due to aggression are animal-based indicators of welfare that can be seen on the carcass.  The monitoring of animal-based indicators of welfare on carcasses provides a cost-effective and standardized method to assess the welfare of animals from a large variety of systems. Understanding the links between welfare measures taken on farms and those identified at slaughter is necessary to determine whether carcass-based measures of welfare at slaughter can be of use for a welfare assessment scheme that can complement on-farm animal care evaluations already in place. If such a welfare assessment works well, then it must be automated for use in abattoirs. As part of this research goal, a collaboration with a computer engineering team will investigate automating this welfare assessment.

Importance of the work

The data will identify if relationships exist between on-farm measures of welfare on live pigs and resource-based measures (housing) and measures of animal welfare collected from swine carcasses. This data can be used by industry to determine the value of performing a welfare assessment after slaughter. This work will also determine the ability to automate a carcass welfare assessment system for use in abattoirs.