Start Date: Jan 01, 2007
End Date: Dec 31, 2010
The objectives of this work are directly allied to Objective 4 of our CRIS: 'To develop a relative ranking of animal well-being of sows in gestation stalls compared to pens, based on three factors: physical, physiological, and mental state'. In general, objective assessment of stress and well-being is difficult, particularly when trying to distinguish between physical and psychological components of stress responses and their impact on acute and chronic well-being status. The work proposed in this grant proposal has considerable potential to contribute to our understanding of the underlying mechanisms of stress in pigs. Moreover, preliminary work indicates that there is certain specificity in autonomic nervous system regulation of cardiac activity during stressful challenges that relates to the nature (e.g. physical versus psychological or acute versus chronic) of the stressor itself. The development of heart rate variability assessment proposed in this research will enable us to not only evaluate overall well-being status in sows, but will also assist us in identifying acute and chronic deviations from acceptable levels of well-being, and to determine if these deviations are due to physical (e.g., lameness, disease, etc) and/or psychological (e.g., fear, social stress, etc) stressors. Actually identifying the source of significant stressors in sow housing and management constitutes a key component of our ability to improve well-being. It will allow us to assign a ranking system to the different factors that can potentially influence well-being, thereby enabling us to generate a cumulative score that represents definite well-being status.