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viernes, 9 de junio 2023
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Music for Swine Welfare

By: Natalia Piedrahita Tamayo-Journalist
Generating animal welfare and health through veterinary functional music is the idea of the Quirón group, which belongs to Universidad de Antioquia's Faculty of Agricultural Sciences. The Quirón group is a team of researchers focused on applying different sounds to reduce stress in animals, especially pigs.

The research group Pathobiology Quirón seeks to improve the quality of life and reduce the suffering of animals through sounds. Photograph: María Clara Agudelo Zapata

Stress can lead to health problems, depression and unusual behaviors, not only in humans but also in other animals. Due to the dynamics of human production, consumption and trade, the chronic stress that fattening pigs are subjected to can lead to cannibalistic behavior and physical aggression among the same species. These confrontations result in wounds through which infectious agents can enter and affect the health and welfare of pigs.

The Pathobiology research group Chiron studies this problem. The group is attached to the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences of Universidad de Antioquia. It has a line of research called Biomusicology, Pathobiology and Health, which deals with diagnosing and treating diseases of commercially important animals such as pigs, dairy cattle and biotherium mice. These are the groups most affected by stress due to human subjugation.

With the welfare of other species in mind, the group has been studying music's role in managing animal stress since 2018. In its research, it has developed tools to mitigate stress-associated health problems in pigs.

"It is necessary that research in Colombia uses creation and innovation to generate solutions and that we transcend the diagnosis of problems to the creation of solutions. We see music as an experience that can produce sensations and emotions in living beings, and we have appealed to it," explained Berardo de Jesús Rodríguez, immunologist, principal investigator and coordinator of the group.

In the case of pigs, some traits and behaviors resemble those of humans. Research such as "Thinking pigs a comparative review of cognition emotion and personality in sus domesticus" - by Lori Marino and Christina Colvin - has shown that pigs have cognitive abilities similar to those of a 3-year-old child and can recognize themselves in the mirror. Also, their auditory perception is similar to that of humans, something that can play for or against their well-being.

Photography: María Clara Agudelo Zapata

"Pigs share part of their auditory spectrum with humans (see box). They suffer natural stress from early weaning, but confinement can increase it. Their anatomical brain and auditory similarities with humans motivated us to develop music for their well-being," summarized Juliana Zapata Cardona, a researcher with the Quirón group.

The hearing sensitivity of all species is different. Depending on the individual's sound sensitivity, humans hear frequencies between 20 hertz and 20 kilohertz. Therefore, not all individuals hear the same. Cats and dogs have a broader spectrum, and elephants hear very low sounds. Pigs hear lower- and higher-pitched sounds. Based on these considerations, the Quirón group organized the acoustic information to produce music for this species.

This is not a new topic. Studying musical compositions as a strategy against stress has gone through many stages. Based on its early research, the Quirón group initially demonstrated how pigs react emotionally to music. Other studies, such as 2019's "Context-specific tool use by Sus cebifrons," analyzed which sound elements -dissonances, composition strategies and physical and acoustic properties- generate different emotional states in pigs.

Among the procedures studied to improve the welfare of these animals is what they call "veterinary functional music." "It showed us what considerations we should have with elements such as acoustics, volume and equalization; what type of frequencies to exalt and remove, and what type of filters we should use to remove or modulate certain parts of the sound spectrum," explained Rodríguez, who has been studying music since he was 11 years old and is now a researcher on the role of music in the stress of animals.

There has been a tendency in the arts to understand music as a human expression with a cultural origin. However, biomusicology states that musicality has a biological, evolutionary origin among animal species. Humans have auditory and cognitive capacities to perceive the acoustic information present in music and generate emotional, physiological and behavioral responses. "If you go into a forest and hear birds and then there is an abrupt silence or a scream, it puts you on alert. That cry has acoustic information or dissonance that humans and other animals can interpret. One generally hears the dominant note, but behind it, there are harmonics or notes and, depending on training or auditory acuity, they are heard or not," Rodriguez said.

One of the consequences of anthropocentric thinking - a philosophical current that considers the human being as the center of everything - is environmental deterioration. "Children in the countryside have been subjected to violence. They sometimes attack their younger siblings or animals when they try to release their anxiety. When we saw this, we developed an educational program called 'Porcipolis,' which aims to develop empathy for animals by showing that they react emotionally to music, teach about animal welfare and develop communication skills," concluded Rodriguez.

Other Developments

Evaluation of the response of swine to different sounds at the Center for Agricultural Practices and Development La Montaña in San Pedro de los Milagros. Photo: María Clara Agudelo Zapata

Currently, the Quirón group is developing a device to bring music treatments to farms remotely to gauge the dose and integrate sensors in "smart farms" to evaluate the effectiveness of treatments and make decisions to improve them and develop new technologies.

The group expects to draw applications for other species from the work with sound stimulation in pigs, a long-term experiment. "We hypothesize that the music we create generates cognitive enrichment; therefore, it can induce neuroplasticity. We are experimentally evaluating this hypothesis in pigs and mice. Our perspective is to design music in the future to improve some health problems in animals and contribute to the treatment of some neurodegenerative diseases in humans," said Zapata Cardona.

Among other developments, the Quirón group created a videogame called Porcípolis with the Faculty of Engineering ITOS group. The game is aimed primarily at children who live on farms. In the game, they recreate a story of a pig that lives in a farmhouse and can move around several planetoids and interact with other pigs and resources. Players must care for the pig by feeding and bathing it to benefit its thermoregulation  - it lacks sweat - and composing music to improve its well-being.

Aggression among pigs in confinement is just one piece of evidence of their stress. As these animals are marketed, one of Quiron's research projects evaluated the quality of the body after the viscera are removed to note that stressors affect the quality of the meat destined for consumption. After being refrigerated and dehydrated, the meat of stressed pigs loses more protein than pigs that lived in harmonious conditions.

They ask us, "Why do you do that if people are going to eat them? We say that we have to provide them with the best quality of life possible so that they do not suffer or suffer as little as possible in their life spans," commented Berardo de Jesús Rodríguez.

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