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Development of a data-driven method for assessing health and welfare in the most common livestock species in Switzerland: The Smart Animal Health project

ORCID
0000-0002-8956-2231
Affiliation
Veterinary Public Health Institute, Vetsuisse Faculty, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland
Thomann, Beat;
GND
116245878X
Affiliation
Veterinary Public Health Institute, Vetsuisse Faculty, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland
Würbel, Hanno;
Affiliation
Identitas AG, Bern, Switzerland
Kuntzer, Thibault;
GND
124244661
ORCID
0000-0002-7638-3867
Affiliation
Research Division on Competitiveness and System Evaluation, Agroscope, Ettenhausen, Switzerland
Umstätter, Christina;
ORCID
0000-0002-9022-5988
Affiliation
Research Division on Competitiveness and System Evaluation, Agroscope, Ettenhausen, Switzerland
Wechsler, Beat;
Affiliation
Veterinary Public Health Institute, Vetsuisse Faculty, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland
Meylan, Mireille;
GND
1115146483
ORCID
0000-0002-2310-7105
Affiliation
Veterinary Public Health Institute, Vetsuisse Faculty, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland
Schüpbach-Regula, Gertraud

Improving animal health and welfare in livestock systems depends on reliable proxies for assessment and monitoring. The aim of this project was to develop a novel method that relies on animal-based indicators and data-driven metrics for assessing health and welfare at farm level for the most common livestock species in Switzerland. Method development followed a uniform multi-stage process for each species. Scientific literature was systematically reviewed to identify potential health and welfare indicators for cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and poultry. Suitable indicators were applied in the field and compared with outcomes of the Welfare Quality® scores of a given farm. To identify farms at risk for violations of animal welfare regulations, several agricultural and animal health databases were interconnected and various supervised machine-learning techniques were applied to model the status of farms. Literature reviews identified a variety of indicators, some of which are well established, while others lack reliability or practicability, or still need further validation. Data quality and availability strongly varied among animal species, with most data available for dairy cows and pigs. Data-based indicators were almost exclusively limited to the categories “Animal health” and “Husbandry and feeding”. The assessment of “Appropriate behavior” and “Freedom from pain, suffering, harm and anxiety” depended largely on indicators that had to be assessed and monitored on-farm. The different machine-learning techniques used to identify farms for risk-based animal welfare inspections reached similar classification performances with sensitivities above 80%. Features with the highest predictive weights were: Participation in federal ecological and animal welfare programs, farm demographics and farmers' notification discipline for animal movements. A common method with individual sets of indicators for each species was developed. The results show that, depending on data availability for the individual animal categories, models based on proxy data can achieve high correlations with animal health and welfare assessed on-farm. Nevertheless, for sufficient validity, a combination of data-based indicators and on-farm assessments is currently required. For a broad implementation of the methods, alternatives to extensive manual on-farm assessments are needed, whereby smart farming technologies have great potential to support the assessment if the specific monitoring goals are defined.

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