Tail lesions caused by tail biting are a widespread welfare issue in pig husbandry. Determining their prevalence currently involves labour intensive, subjective scoring methods. Increased societal interest in tail lesions requires fast, reliable and cheap systems for assessing tail status. In the present study, we aimed to test the reliability of neural networks for assessing tail pictures from carcasses against trained human observers. Three trained observers scored tail lesions from automatically recorded pictures of 13 124 pigs. Nearly all pigs had been tail docked. Tail lesions were classified using a 4-point score (0=no lesion, to 3=severe lesion). In addition, total tail loss was recorded. Agreement between observers was tested prior and during the assessment in a total of seven inter-observer tests with 80 pictures each. We calculated agreement between observer pairs as exact agreement (%) and prevalence-adjusted bias-adjusted κ (PABAK; value 1=optimal agreement). Out of the 13 124 scored pictures, we used 80% for training and 20% for validating our neural networks. As the position of the tail in the pictures varied (high, low, left, right), we first trained a part detection network to find the tail in the picture and select a rectangular part of the picture which includes the tail. We then trained a classification network to categorise tail lesion severity using pictures scored by human observers whereby the classification network only analysed the selected picture parts. Median exact agreement between the three observers was 80% for tail lesions and 94% for tail loss. Median PABAK for tail lesions and loss were 0.75 and 0.87, respectively. The agreement between classification by the neural network and human observers was 74% for tail lesions and 95% for tail loss. In other words, the agreement between the networks and human observers were very similar to the agreement between human observers. The main reason for disagreement between observers and thereby higher variation in network training material were picture quality issues. Therefore, we expect even better results for neural network application to tail lesions if training is based on high quality pictures. Very reliable and repeatable tail lesion assessment from pictures would allow automated tail classification of all pigs slaughtered, which is something that some animal welfare labels would like to do.
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