Automatic welfare assessment in broilers : with focus on human-animal relationship and lameness
Abstract: Broiler production today is an intensive farming sector with large flocks which can make it difficult for farmers to continuously monitor the animals. At the same time, society demands good animal welfare and the possibility to buy animal welfare certified products. Difficulties with the application of existing animal welfare assessment protocols are the time and effort needed for a complete assessment on farm and consequently long intervals between assessments. This hampers the use of the outcomes as a management tool. Automatic and (semi) continuous monitoring of welfare, production and other management parameters could solve that problem. In this thesis the possibilities to automatically assess two welfare parameters for broilers, human-animal relationship and lameness, were investigated in detail. The automatization was based on image analysis techniques. Study I was designed to investigate the possibility to affect the human-animal relationship through additional human contact and the effect on the birds’ productivity. The additional human contact treatment had a positive effect on the quality of the human-animal relationship but failed to affect any production parameter. The possibilities to use automatic recordings of broiler chicken activity to assess the human-animal relationship and the birds´ walking ability were investigated in Study II and III respectively. The results show that changes in broiler activity, in response to the presence of a human, can predict the human-animal relationship (Study II) and the level of lameness (Study III). Study IV focused on leg health in broilers from an economic perspective. The first aim was to explore the economic potential of management practices intended to reduce broiler lameness. Secondly it was investigated through a survey how Swedish broiler farmers perceive these management practices. The results in this thesis show the potential of using automatic image analysis techniques to assess the quality of the human-animal relationship and lameness in commercial broiler flocks and thus can be of use in animal welfare assessment. Results also show that it is possible to positively modify the human-animal relationship and that there is an economical potential to use alternative practises to reduce lameness.
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