Decision support system for overall welfare assessment in pregnant sow : a model structure and weighting procedure

M.B.M. Bracke, B.M. Spruijt, J.H.M. Metz, W.G.P. Schouten

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94 Citations (Scopus)


The problem of how to objectively assess the overall welfare status of animals under farming conditions has contributed to an ongoing debate that has hampered actual decision making on animal welfare. For this reason we constructed a model based on the assumed hierarchical organization of the animals’ needs for overall welfare assessment in the case of pregnant sows. This model is implemented in a computer-based decision support system that takes a description of a housing and management system as input and produces a welfare score as output. A formalized procedure was used to construct the model for welfare assessment in pregnant sows on the basis of available scientific knowledge. This SOWEL (from SOw WELfare) model contains 37 attributes that describe the welfare-relevant properties of housing and management systems. In the decision support system these attributes are linked to scientific statements and a list of needs to provide a scientific basis for welfare assessment. Weighting factors that represent the relative importance of the attributes are derived from the scientific statements about the various welfare performance criteria that have been measured by scientists. The welfare score is calculated as the weighted average score. All information in the decision support system is stored in tables in a relational database such that newly available knowledge and insights can be incorporated to refine the model. The model has been developed in line with several existing models but it differs from these models in that it is the first to provide a formalized procedure to explicate the reasoning steps involved in welfare assessment based on available scientific knowledge.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1819-1834
JournalJournal of Animal Science
Publication statusPublished - 2002


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