State-of-the-art facial recognition technology is being used in an attempt to detect different emotional states in pigs.
Animal behaviourists from Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) in Edinburgh have teamed up with machine vision experts at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) for the study, which it is hoped will lead to a tool that can monitor individual animals’ faces and alert farmers to any health and welfare problems.
Pigs are highly expressive and SRUC research has previously shown they can signal their intentions to other pigs using different facial expressions. There is also evidence of different expressions when they are in pain or under stress.
At SRUC’s Pig Research Centre in Midlothian, scientists are capturing 3D and 2D facial images of the breeding sow population under typical commercial situations which are likely to result in different emotional states.
For example, sows can experience lameness and could show different facial expressions relating to pain before and after being given pain relief.
Detecting positive emotional state is more novel but sows are highly food motivated and appear content when satiated. They hope this could be reflected in sows’ facial expressions.
Images are then processed at UWE Bristol’s Centre for Machine Vision, where state-of-the-art machine earning techniques are being developed to automatically identify different emotions conveyed by particular facial expressions.
After validating these techniques, the team will develop the technology for on-farm use with commercial partners where individual sows in large herds will be monitored continuously.
SRUC senior researcher Dr Emma Baxter says: “Early identification of pig health issues gives farmers potential to improve animal wellbeing by tackling any problems quickly.”