Driving Savings From Handling & Transporting Pigs


In the increasingly competitive global swine industry we must continue to look for any and all opportunities to maximize efficiency and deliver on profit potential.

One, potentially overlooked opportunity to drive improvement is around proper animal handling and transportation. Industry estimates show that U.S. producers can save up to $2.44 per market pig.a This cost estimation accounts for death loss in transport (DOA), death loss in the plant (DIP), inferior color, bruising and meat that is pale, soft and exudative (PSE), but does not include the cost of pigs that are unable to be loaded at the farm. Death loss in transport and at the slaughter plant is easily counted and quantified, the additional costs associated with stressed/ fatigued pigs (color, bruising and PSE) are the major contributors to the losses related to poor handling and are more difficult to quantify.

To reduce this loss, the load-out and transport process needs to be as well planned and executed as the specialized care given to wean pigs upon arrival. Well-trained and motivated people who understand the pig and can adapt to changing conditions - temperature, humidity, etc., use appropriate handling techniques, and have access to and know how to use handling tools are essential.

Fundamentals of Proper Handling and Transport:

Understand the pig’s behavior in order to anticipate its reaction and respond using appropriate handling techniques and tools.

    The pig: take into account the pig’s field of vision, sense of smell, curiosity, memory, herd tendency
    Tools: key tools to use are physical/visual barriers (e.g. sorting board), audio stimulants (e.g. rattle can or rattle paddle), visual stimulants (e.g. flag); PIC does not recommend the use of electric prods

Determine the optimal group size based on pig type/weight, prior movements, and facility design (3-5 market pigs/20 nursery pigs).

    Our guideline is that a handler should be able to reach the lead pig.

Facilitate movement by minimizing abrupt transitions and providing a pathway that is obvious to the pig and as distraction free as possible. (Flooring, lighting, temperature, humidity, air speed/flow & building pressures)

Maintain flow at the pig’s pace using the application and release of pressure.

    Pressure is any action that increases the level of attention a pig feels they need to dedicate to their handler
    Too much pressure, constant pressure and/or pressure at the wrong time can have a negative impact on pig movement.

Provide correct truck stocking density and bedding level based on season, weather conditions and pig size.

    PIC recommends 58lbs/ft2 with additional space based on increasing temperatures and distance.

Evaluate facilities and equipment design regularly and modify whenever possible to reduce stress and improve pig movement. Key areas for barns, ramps and trucks include:

Minimized distance from pen to truck. In one study open mouth, breathing was more than double for pens >150ft vs. pens <80ft from the truck.b

    Non-slip flooring
    Walkways and ramps that are at least 2 pigs wide (36-40in)
    Open corners rather than “blind” 90° turns
    Uniform, diffused & sufficiently bright lighting
    Pen gates wide enough (≥ 6ft) to provide an easily visible route
    Ramps with a maximum 20° incline and correctly sized & spaced cleats
    Solid pen fronts in alleyways near doors (temporary is ok)
    Trucks with correctly sized pens & adequate ventilation adjustment to enhance pig comfort

a ”Handling and Loadout of the Finisher Pig” Jeff Hill, Premium Standard Farms, Nick Berry, Iowa State University, Anna K. Johnson, Iowa State University, December 2015

b “Effects of season and distance moved during loading on transport losses of market-weight pigs in two commercially available types of trailer” M. J. Ritter et al 2014

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