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Handling and Transportation for Swine Producers

by 5m Editor
1 August 2008, at 12:00am

By Elizabeth Franz, AOE Pork Educator, Cassopolis, published in the Michigan State University Pork Quarterly volume 13.

The work that goes into producing a good pork product doesn’t stop when the animal leaves your door. Gentle handling and good husbandry skills improve the overall productivity of the animal and help to diminish any setbacks that the animal might encounter. In fact, research shows that the performance of finishing pigs is positively affected by good stockmanship. Pigs that are mistreated most often have lower weight gains and a higher number of days to reach market weight. When trying to improve the handling and transportation practices on your farm, there are many different factors to consider. In this article, we will discuss utilizing proper equipment, handling methods - both in the barn and on the truck - and tips to decide which pigs are fit for transport.

When reviewing the equipment you make use of on your farm, you not only need to look at the tools the herdsmen use to move animals but the general condition and design of your buildings. Pigs resist movement if they are being driven from areas with different flooring types, temperature or wind variations (Jordahl, 2008). Opening curtains, installing extra lighting, preventing draughts and at times, turning off the ventilation systems are all ways to help improve the handling process.

Pigs have a hard time adjusting to different lighting. Adding a light at the entrance of a loading chute or exit will facilitate animal movement out of the door. Both pigs and cattle have a tendency to move from a darker place towards a brighter place (Grandin, 2002). Simple things, like opening curtains 30 minutes before moving animals so that animals adjust to the sunlight, can make handling a less stressful event.

Loading and unloading animals can be one of the most stressful times on a farm for the animals and herdsmen. In order to ensure ease at handling, we need to utilize proper handling tools, maintain the correct environment and have the correct ramp design. When assessing the flooring types on your farm, it has been found that all surfaces where animal movement takes place should be non-slip. A light broom finish or imprinted concrete can add traction to handling areas, decreasing slipping and injury. Another area of the swine barn that can be assessed is the loading chute. Research has shown that a pig’s heart rate will increase as the angle of a loading ramp increases (Van Patten, 1978). An ideal ramp design for a non-adjustable ramp would have an angle of 20 degrees or less. For adjustable ramps, the angle should not be greater than 25 degrees. Cleats on a loading ramp also will improve the movement of the animal in the chute. It has been found that cleats should be spaced with the normal stride of the animal. For a 250-pound market pig, cleats should be 1 inch x 1 inch and spaced 8 inches apart (Mayes, 1978). Adjusting the design of the loading chute will make loading and unloading a less stressful event on your farm.

Handling and transportation will be easier on your farm it you have well designed and maintained equipment. Another factor that you should consider is the need to have good management and well-trained people in your employment. Pigs are handled on farms many times at different stages for specific reasons. If pigs are accustomed to close, frequent, gentle contact from the people that work the pens, they are less likely to experience a setback in production and be easier to handle. Training employees to understand the behavioral principles of handling such as flight zone and point of balance is an effective management tool on farms (Grandin, 2001). Although we can train all employees on the basic handling principles, we also need to take into account the attitude of the employee. Employee qualities, like patience, timing and being able to predict the movement of the animal, are all important in effective animal handling. Routine visual evaluation of your employees will help you determine which employees should be responsible for pig movement and handling on the farm.

When evaluating the effectiveness of your transportation practices you also need to look at the condition of the truck. Overloading of trucks is a major cause of stress and death loss in pigs. Studies have shown that severe overloading results in evidence of physical stress (Warriss, 1998). For longer trips, the space allotment should increase 15 to 20% depending on the weather and temperature. During trips of less three hours, pigs will remain standing, while they will lie down for longer trips (Guise, 1998). Table 1 shows recommended transportation space requirements during cool weather by the National Institute of Animal Agriculture.

Table 1
Average Weight, lb Number hogs per Running foot of Truck floor
(92-in, Truck Width)
Sq. Ft. Per Head
50 5.01 0.53
100 3.3 2.32
150 2.6 2.95
200 2.2 3.48
250 1.8 4.26
300 1.6 4.79
350 1.4 5.48
400 1.2 6.39


From this table, we can surmise that a 250-pound pig needs a minimum of 4.3 square feet of space during transportation to reduce stress and improve welfare.

Before loading the truck, employees need the skills to determine which animals are fit for transportation. The protocol used in this evaluation should be uniform amongst employees and stated in the farm’s standard operating procedures. It is suggested by the National Pork Board that sows and pigs that are unable to walk or those that are ill or have sustained an injury should be humanely euthanized at the farm and not transported to market. Pig that are temporarily non-ambulatory, must be allowed sufficient time to recover before they are put on the truck. Making your employees aware of the standards that the animals must meet before being put on a truck will help prevent and reduce losses during transportation.

In conclusion, to maintain high standard for handling and transportation, protocols on your farm must address many factors. Constant evaluation of building and truck design and maintenance is essential. Furthermore, handling practices must be regularly assessed and employee training must include effective techniques necessary for animal handling. Another resource that producers can refer to in order to set production practice standards on their farm are the Generally Accepted Agricultural Management Practices (GAAMPS (MDA GAAMPS website; http://michigan.gov/mda/0,1607,7-125-1567_1599_1605---,00.html) ) that are available through the Michigan Department of Agriculture. Addressing handling and transportation methods on your farm can impact your bottom line.

Literature Cited

Grandin T., 2006. Progress and Challenges in Animal Handling and Slaughter in the U.S. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 100, 129-139.
Grandin T. and C. Schultz-Kaster, 2006. Handling Pigs. Pork Information Gateway factsheet. PIG 05-05-01.
Grandin T., 2002. Welfare of Pigs during Transport. Swine Welfare Fact Sheet. Vol. 1, no. 3.
Grandin T., 2001. Livestock Management Practices that Reduce Injuries to Livestock During Transport. Livestock Trucking Guide. National Institute for Animal Agriculture.
Grandin T., 2001. Management Practices that Reduce Livestock Bruise and Injuries and Improve Handling Efficiency. Livestock Trucking Guide. National Institute for Animal Agriculture.
Guise H. J. et al., 1998. The effect of stocking density in transit on the carcass quality and welfare of slaughter pigs. Meat Science, 50: 439-446.
Mayes H.F., 1978. Design criteria for livestock loading chutes. Amer. Soc. Ag. Engineers Paper, 78:6014. St. Joseph, MI.
Jordahl R., 2008. Handler’s Attitude Makes All the Difference. Pork Magazine, 28 (2), 21-22.
Van Putten G. and G. Elshoff, 1978. Observation on the effect of transport on the well being and lean quality of slaughter pigs. Animal Regulation Studies, 1:247-271.
Warriss P.D., 1998. Choosing appropriate spare allowances for slaughter pigs transported by road: a Review. Vet. Rec., 142: 449-454.


July 2008