Automated recording of stress vocalisations as a tool to document impaired welfare in pigs
The vocalisations of animals are results of particular emotional states. For example, the stress screams of pigs may be indicators of disturbed welfare. Our objective was to develop a system to monitor and record levels of stress calls in pigs, which could be employed in environments of breeding, transportation and slaughter. Using a combination of sound analysis by linear prediction coding and artificial neural networks, it was possible to detect the stress vocalisations of pigs in noisy pig units with few recognition errors (<5%). The system (STREMODO: stress monitor and documentation unit) running on PCs is insensitive to environmental noise, human speech and pig vocalisations other than screams. As a stand-alone device it can be routinely used for the objective, non-invasive measurement of acute stress in various farming environments. The system delivers reliable, reproducible registrations of stress vocalisations. Its detection quality in commercial systems was found to correlate well with that of human experts. STREMODO is particularly well-suited for comparisons of housing and management regimes. Since the system can be trained to recognise various animal vocalisations, its use with other species is also well within its scope.
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