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Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 September 2015
There is increasing interest in developing abattoir-based measures to assist in determining the welfare status of pigs. The primary aim of this study was to determine the most appropriate place on the slaughter line to conduct assessments of welfare-related lesions, namely apparent aggression-related skin lesions (hereafter referred to as ‘skin lesions’), loin bruising and apparent tail biting damage. The study also lent itself to an assessment of the prevalence of these lesions, and the extent to which they were linked with production variables. Finishing pigs processed at two abattoirs on the Island of Ireland (n=1950 in abattoir A, and n=1939 in abattoir B) were used. Data were collected over 6 days in each abattoir in July 2014. Lesion scoring took place at two points on the slaughter line: (1) at exsanguination (slaughter stage 1 (SS1)), and (2) following scalding and dehairing of carcasses (slaughter stage 2 (SS2)). At both points, each carcass was assigned a skin and tail lesion score ranging from 0 (lesion absent) to 3 or 4 (severe lesions), respectively. Loin bruising was recorded as present or absent. Differences in the percentage of pigs with observable lesions of each type were compared between SS1 and SS2 using McNemar/McNemar-Bowker tests. The associations between each lesion type, and both cold carcass weight and condemnations, were examined at batch level using Pearson’s correlations. Batch was defined as the group of animals with a particular farm identification code on a given day. The overall percentage of pigs with a visible skin lesion (i.e. score>0) decreased between SS1 and SS2 (P<0.001). However, the percentage of pigs with a severe skin lesion increased numerically from SS1 to SS2. The percentage of pigs with a visible tail lesion and with loin bruising also increased between SS1 and SS2 (P<0.001). There was a positive correlation between the percentage of carcasses that were partially condemned, and the percentage of pigs with skin lesions, tail lesions and loin bruising (P<0.05). In addition, as the batch-level frequency of each lesion type increased, average cold carcass weight decreased (P<0.001). These findings suggest that severe skin lesions, tail lesions and loin bruising are more visible on pig carcasses after they have been scalded and dehaired, and that this is when abattoir-based lesion scoring should take place. The high prevalence of all three lesion types, and the links with economically important production parameters, suggests that more research into identifying key risk factors is warranted.
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