Lagoda, M. E., Boyle, L. A., Marchewka, J. et al. 2021. Early detection of locomotion disorders in gilts using a novel visual analogue scale; associations with chronic stress and reproduction. Animals 11(10), 2900.
Locomotion scoring is crucial for the early detection of lameness, which reduces sow welfare and performance. Our objective was to test the effectiveness of a visual analogue scale (VAS) to measure locomotory ability (OVERALL) compared to a categorical scoring system (CAT) and to investigate associations with hair cortisol and reproductive performance. Locomotion was scored in gilts (n = 51) at service, on day 57 and day 108 of pregnancy, and at weaning, using a VAS (150 mm line: 0 mm (perfect)–150 mm (severely lame)), and a CAT (1 (perfect)–5 (severely lame)). Hair cortisol concentration was measured on day 108 of pregnancy. Reproductive performance data (parity 1–4) were acquired from farm records. VAS detected deviations from optimal locomotion more effectively than the CAT (F3,145 = 2.70; p ≤ 0.05 versus F3,195 = 2.45; p = 0.065). Higher OVERALL scores at service (REG = 0.003 ± 0.0012; F1,48 = 4.25; p ≤ 0.05) and on day 57 (REG = 0.003 ± 0.0013; F1,48 = 6.95; p ≤ 0.05) were associated with higher hair cortisol concentrations on day 108. Positive associations were detected between OVERALL at service and the number of piglets born dead (REG = 0.01 ± 0.006; F1,36 = 4.24; p ≤ 0.05), and total born (REG = 0.1 ± 0.03; F1,120 = 4.88; p ≤ 0.05). The VAS better facilitates early detection of lameness, which could help to prevent detrimental effects, possibly mediated by chronic stress, on reproductive performance.