Feasibility and reliability of a German guideline for farm's self-monitoring in sows and piglets
The present study's aim was to test a German guideline for farm's self-monitoring in sows and piglets for its feasibility as well as its interobserver and test-retest reliability. The study was performed between September 2016 and April 2018 on 13 farrowing farms in Northern Germany. Contrary to the guideline, the testing was not carried out by the farmers themselves but by 2 observers with experience in pigs representing common farmers. For the interobserver reliability study, the observers performed 20 joint farm visits independently assessing the same animals. For the test-retest reliability study, each farm was visited 5 times by 1 observer (day 0, day 3, week 7, month 5, month 10). Farm visit 1 (day 0) was used as reference and compared with the remaining farm visits. The reliability was evaluated using Spearman's rank correlation coefficient (RS), intraclass correlation coefficient (ICC), and limits of agreement (LoA). As results, the guideline's feasibility was limited. The indicators' reliability also presented divergent results: All indicators in piglets revealed acceptable to good interobserver reliability (RS 0.64 to 0.77 ICC 0.33 to 0.48 LoA between the intervals -0.02 to 0.13 and -0.02 to 0.00). Contrarily, interobserver reliability was low for indicators in sows (e.g., claw alterations: RS -0.41 ICC 0.00 LoA -0.97 to 0.68). Overall acceptable test-retest reliability could be assigned to all indicators although no exact agreement existed but only the pursuit of trends is indicated. On the basis of the present results, the guideline in its present form cannot be recommended for farms' self-monitoring. Given the restricted applicability, it should be reconsidered whether it might not be more appropriate to use scientifically tested and generally accepted animal welfare assessment systems such as the Welfare Quality animal welfare assessment protocols, although their application is also time-consuming.