Several animal welfare issues persist in practice despite extensive research which has been linked to the unwillingness of stakeholders to make changes. For example, most farmers do not perceive pig aggression to be a problem that requires action despite the fact that stress and injuries are common, and that several solutions exist. Frequent exposure to animal suffering could affect farmer responses to distressed animals. This study investigated for the first time whether this occurs, using pig aggression as a focus. Using video clips, 90 pig farmers judged the severity of aggression, level of pig exhaustion and the strength of their own emotional response. Their judgments were compared to objective measures of severity (pigs’ skin lesions and blood lactate), and against control groups with similar pig experience (10 pig veterinarians) and without experience (26 agricultural students; 24 animal science students). Famers did not show desensitization to aggression. However, all groups underestimated the outcome of aggression when they did not see the fight occurring as compared to witnessing a fight in progress. We suggest that farmers be provided with evidence of the economic and welfare impact of aggression as indicated by lesions and that they be advised to score lesions on affected animals.
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