Thanks to science, we now know how pigs are feeling. Researchers programmed an algorithm with pig noises from positive and negative situations. But why? Pigs are one of the smartest animals on Earth. They are smarter than dogs and at a similar level to dolphins, elephants, octopuses, and apes like chimpanzees and orangutans. Quite simply, pigs deserve humane treatment, even when born and raised for their meat. This research will help create an automatic welfare monitoring system for use on farms.
The peer-reviewed journal Scientific Reports published the insights from research labs across the European Union. The dataset includes over 7,000 noises from more than 400 pigs over the course of their lifetime. Researchers recorded the vocalizations under a variety of circumstances. Some came from pigs going about their daily lives on a farm. Others were of pigs in experimental settings, either given treats and puzzles or left without any stimuli.
Pigs are cognitively equal to three-year-old children. Like toddlers, pigs make a range of noises. Squeals are loud, long, and of high frequency and mostly used in negative settings. Pigs also make short, deep grunts that can be either positive or negative. The researchers tracked behavioral clues and heartrate but also used common sense to match the sounds to the emotional range. Family reunions, snuggling, and exploration led to positive noises. Negative sounds came from stressful situations like separation, castration, and slaughter. The algorithm populated with this data is 92% effective in classifying pig noises on the scale between happy and stressed.
Many farms already use technology including cameras and microphones to monitor size and physical health. Cows are sometimes fitted with activity trackers like FitBit, their health data recorded via RFID in their ear tags. The next step is to develop a program to monitor animal welfare on farms. The study’s premise can be used to create similar algorithms for other animals. It may not be long before we better understand, and treat, our favorite farm animals.