Decision support system for overall welfare assessment in pregnant sows. B. Validation by expert opinion

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

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This paper examines the validity of a model that is embedded in a computer-based decision support system to assess the welfare status of pregnant sows in housing and management systems. The so-called SOWEL (SOw WELfare) model was constructed using a formalized procedure to identify and weight welfare-relevant attributes of housing systems in relation to the animal’s needs, and evidenced by scientific statements collected in a database. The model’s predictions about welfare scores for 15 different housing systems and weighting factors for 20 attributes were compared with expert opinion, which was solicited using a written questionnaire for pig-welfare scientists. The experts identified tethering and individual housing in stalls as low welfare systems. The group of mid-welfare systems contained indoor group-housing systems and an individual-housing system with additional space and substrate. The five best systems were all systems with outdoor access and the provision of some kind of substrate such as straw. The highest weighting factors were given for the attributes "social contact," "health and hygiene status," "water availability," "space per pen," "foraging and bulk," "food agonism," "rooting substrate," "social stability," and "movement comfort." The degree of concordance among the experts was reasonable for welfare scores of housing systems, but low for weighting factors of attributes. Both for welfare scores and weighting factors the model correlated significantly with expert opinion (Spearman’s Rho: 0.92, P < 0.001, and 0.72, P < 0.01, respectively). The results support the validity of the model and its underlying procedure to assess farm-animal welfare in an explicit and systematic way based on available scientific knowledge.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1835-1845
JournalJournal of Animal Science
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2002


  • Animal Welfare
  • Housing
  • Indexes
  • Management
  • Pigs


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