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Human–animal relationship influences husbandry practices, animal welfare and productivity in pig farming

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Françoise Pol (Anses) et al., Animal, 2021, volume 15, n° 2, 10 pages

The nature of the relationship between humans and farm animals has multiple repercussions on the animals and the farmers and varies with farmers attitudes towards their animals. In particular, this relationship influences animal welfare and human working conditions. The present study, part of a larger research project investigating human–animal relationship (HAR) in pig farming and ways to improve it, had two objectives: 1) to investigate the HAR in a diversity of pig farming situations and to evaluate the possible correlation between farmer attitudes, pigs' reactions to humans, husbandry practices, animal health, welfare and productivity and 2) to find a way to rapidly assign a farmer to a profile, in order to better adapt course content during training sessions on HAR. The study focused on 52 farrow-to-finish farms and consisted of a semi-structured interview with the farmer, observations of the farmer in contact with his/her livestock, two human approach tests conducted on sows and growers and productivity data. Finally, a questionnaire was left at the farm to be filled out by all stockpersons on the farm. Interviews, analyzed using a thematic analysis followed by multiple correspondence analysis and ascendant hierarchical clustering, showed that some farmers develop husbandry practices to improve their HARs and identified three farmer profiles that have been named in relation to the place of the HAR in their profession: Profile 1 farmers for whom HAR is secondary in their work with their pigs, Profile 2 for whom the HAR is useful in their work with their pigs and Profile 3 for whom HAR is central in their work with their pigs. Logistic regression models of the relationships between behavioral tests and productivity data showed that confident sows produce and wean more piglets than fearful sows and that sows of Profile 3 farmers trust more humans than those of Profile 1 or 2 farmers. Farmers' responses to the questionnaire did not predict their profile assignment. Our results confirm the main role of the farmer's attitude towards animals on their farming practices, animal welfare and productivity. The farmers who have more confident pigs and better productivity are those for whom the farm animal is central to their profession, express the most pleasure in working with them and convey empathy for them.