Footpad monitoring : reliability of an automated system to assess footpad dermatitis in turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) during slaughter
Footpad dermatitis (FPD) is an indicator of animal welfare in turkeys, giving evidence of the animals' physical integrity and providing information on husbandry management. Automated systems for assessing FPD at slaughter can present a useful tool for objective data collection. However, using automated systems requires that they reliably assess the incidence. In this study, the feet of turkeys were scored for FPD by both an automated camera system and a human observer, using a five-scale score. The observer reliability between both was calculated (Krippendorff's alpha). The results were not acceptable, with an agreement coefficient of 0.44 in the initial situation. Therefore, pictures of 3,000 feet scored by the automated system were evaluated systematically to detect deficiencies. The reference area (metatarsal footpad) was not detected correctly in 55.0% of the feet, and false detections of the alteration on the footpad (FPD) were found in 32.9% of the feet. In 41.3% of the feet, the foot was not presented straight to the camera. According to these results, the algorithm of the automated system was modified, aiming to improve color detection and the distinction of the metatarsal footpad from the background. Pictures of the feet, now scored by the modified algorithm, were evaluated again. Observer reliability could be improved (Krippendorff's alpha = 0.61). However, detection of the metatarsal footpad (50.9% incorrect detections) and alterations (27.0% incorrect detections) remained a problem. We found that the performance of the camera system was affected by the angle at which the foot was presented to the camera (skew/straight; p < 0.05). Furthermore, the laterality of the foot (left/right) was found to have a significant effect (p < 0.001). We propose that the latter depends on the slaughter process. This study also highlights a high variability in observer reliability of human observers. Depending on the respective target parameter, the reliability coefficient (Krippendorff's alpha) ranged from 0.21 to 0.82. This stresses the importance of finding an objective alternative. Therefore, it was concluded that the automated detection system could be appropriate to reliably assess FPD at the slaughterhouse. However, there is still room to improve the existing method, especially when using FPD as a welfare indicator.