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Improving stockpeople and pig relationship: if communication was the key?

Thesis : Improving stockpeople and pig relationship
Studying basic mechanisms of human-animal relationship will allow suggesting more sustainable breeding practices.

Pigs’ well-being necessitates a good relationship with farmers

Intensification and mechanization of conventional farms induce a scarcity of contacts between farmers and animals, the latter developing negative reactions towards humans (fear, aggressiveness…). From piglets’ birth in farms, this is all the more true since they have to undergo stressful and painful handling (castration, injections…). Improving the relationship between human and pig decreases those undesired reactions, in view of animal well-being and also human comfort at work.

Studying communication for a better relationship

Relation homme-porc

A relationship between partners consists of interactions and exchanges of sensorial signals of communication. Pigs mostly communicate between them by exchanging auditory and olfactory signals, and to a lesser extent tactile and visual cues. Humans take an integral part in the pigs’ relational environment, thus a common system of communication by the sensory channels exists between both species. Yet, signal exchanges between humans and pigs are still too poorly studied, since almost only visual cues were tested. Preliminary studies found out that auditory and tactile cues are also important. The thesis aims at two objectives: to characterize pigs’ perception of human signals and to determine their importance in the development of human-animal relationship.

Thesis program: pigs’ sensibility and its use for the relationship development

The first part of the thesis aims at studying pigs’ spontaneous perception of human signals, considering all sensory systems (auditory, olfactory, tactile and visual). Numerous questions arise for this step. Are pig sensitive to our signals and if so, which one of them? Do they give them a positive, negative or neutral value? How do they react if the emotional part of the signal changes or if its value changes?
The second part of the thesis will take an interest in signals’ importance in developing a relation to humans and in ease of work. Experimentally, humans will be associated to some cues during interactions and we will characterize afterwards the way pigs perceive humans (attraction, fear…). This study will determine if some cues, associated with human presence, are enough to establish a good relationship with humans and facilitate handling.

Methodology

Porc_regard

The thesis will rely on cognitive and classical ethology methods: spontaneous or instrumental behavioural observations (choice tests between stimuli for instance), including fine measures (body posture, tail and ear position, vocalizations). Animals’ cardiac activity could be registered too to measure instant physiological reactions. We will work with weaned piglets to avoid sow’s influence. Finally, we will give voice to breeders during a farm inquiry about their communication practices.

Thesis Title: Sensory basis of the relationship between humans and animals: a study in domestic pigs. Sandy Bensoussan working on this since November 1, 2013 for 3 years. She is supervised by Céline Tallet in the team the pig in livestock systems

Contact

Celine.Tallet[at]rennes.inra.fr
Sandy.Bensoussan[at]rennes.inra.fr