The U.K’s Newcastle University, with collaboration from Scotland’s Rural College researcher Dale Sandercock is conducting a project that looks for markers identifying pigs at risk of having a painful and degenerative joint disease.
Animals with degenerative joint conditions are likely to experience pain before they show any clinical signs or lameness. In U.K. pig herds, lameness is a serious welfare and economic problem which has been found to affect some 230,000 animals annually. Being able to predict clinical lameness will not only help inform earlier pain alleviation but will also help in the selection for breeding of non-affected animals which could gradually reduce the genetic pre-disposition to lameness.
The project is funded by the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW) and draws together a multi-disciplinary team of animal scientists and specialists in human osteoarthritis from Newcastle University, Nottingham University and Oxford University in addition to Scotland’s Rural College.
Researchers aim to identify molecular markers in the blood and joint tissue of pigs affected by degenerative joint disease which could in future be used to identify animals likely to develop the condition before any clinical signs appear. They will study the relationship between the disease, specific biomarkers and use sophisticated motion capture software to record and identify any subtle behavior patterns that might be used to identify early signs.
Once validated, pain and lameness biomarker data have the potential to be included within breeding selection objectives, both in genetic population improvement programs and the ongoing screening of animals sold to production herds. It would bring significant benefits to pig welfare.
The UFAW is an internationally recognized, independent scientific and educational animal welfare charity. UFAW Senior Scientific Program Manager Dr. Huw Golledge said: “UFAW is delighted to be able to support this important project which has the potential to significantly improve the welfare and health of farmed pigs.”