More Than Just Beady Eyes and Pink Snouts
British university experts have teamed up with machine vision specialists to develop a tool that can monitor the individual facial expressions of pigs. They hope to “explore the potential for using machine vision to automatically recognize facial expressions that are linked with core emotion states, such as happiness or distress, in the identified pigs.”
The long-term goal is “to deliver a truly animal-centric welfare assessment technique, where the animal can ‘tell’ us how it feels about its own individual experiences and environment. This allows insight into both short-term emotional reactions and long-term individual moods of animals under our care.”
Didn’t Need a Therapist to Know Pigs Had Personality
I have to admit, I didn’t give any of this much thought decades ago when I was growing up on a small, Midwest farm. Our pigs were basically free-range by default—sort of like they were mischievous school kids and we were caring but rather detached playground monitors.
Now that I look back, I have to agree with the common consensus that says pigs are intelligent. Oh sure, they would act dumb—beady eyes, gaping mouths, hours wallowing in mud and rooting in feedlot filth. But they played the game just right. They would get us to feed them corn, bed their hog house with straw, and clean their area with pitchforks and manure spreaders. And for entertainment, they cleverly figured out how to escape and then they’d enact some type of Babe-the-squealing-pig rodeo game with us.
I can picture angry sows coming at me when I got too near their babies (this necessitated a scoop shovel or a quick hop over the fence); I recall hog droving days when we would move the herd a mile down the gravel road to Uncle Pat’s farm (pigs have a phobia about crossing bridges); and I remember when my brothers and I took care of three “runt pigs” that had been bullied to near death by the others (we raised them in a separate pen and eventually watched them board the truck for the slaughterhouse—no Wilbur-the-terrific-pig ending).
I like pigs, but I’m happy as a hog in fresh clover that I don’t have to take care of them. Dedicated pork producers have to be concerned shepherds, economic wizards, and medical assistants. When I was six or seven, Dad took me to a neighbor’s farm, and I watched in a trance as Doc Walker performed his vet magic by doing a cesarean and saving an ailing sow and several of the babies. A few years later, Doc was in our pasture with Dad and Uncle Pat, huddled over a dead 250 pounder. His field autopsy showed that a deadly nightshade weed had poisoned the animal. And many years later, I returned to the farm for a visit and, with my wife and two small children, we watched my brother-in-law assist a sow that was struggling to deliver 18 baby pigs. Twelve lived.
I have a lot of respect for those who put their all into pork production, and I hope farmers, food companies, and consumers will work out ways to keep hog farms safe, affordable, and humane–especially now that we know pigs are so emotional. But I’m not convinced we need facial recognition and mood analysis for modern-day pigs. As Will Rogers supposedly pointed out, “You should never try and teach a pig to read for two reasons. First, it’s impossible; and secondly, it annoys the hell out of the pig!”
Click here for a previous blog about “Pigs That Fly, Drink Beer, and Enjoy Toys.”
Click here for a previous blog titled “A Slice of Pork History: A Wonderful, Magical Animal.”
Click here for a previous blog about the old days called “Head ‘Em Up, Move ‘Em Out–Hog Style.”
by dan gogerty (top pic from medium.com and bottom from wilsonquarterly.com)