Measures to Reduce Animal Stress during Loading and Transport

By Arthur Churchyard, Ontario Pork Newsletter - Pig comfort during loading and transport causes stress and affects survival. This article looks at measures that can be taken to reduce stress.
calendar icon 2 May 2006
clock icon 4 minute read
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The journey for pigs on the way to market can be hot and humid. That's why it's important to keep conditions as comfortable as possible, before and after shipping.

Over the past three years, Prof. Cate Dewey, Department of Population Medicine, University of Guelph, has led a team of researchers in the study of pig transport. She found that a small percentage (roughly 0.17 percent) of pigs die between the farm and processing at the plant. Still, significant quality can be lost through improper transport, so she's urging producers to be prudent during shipping.

Her study shows how certain loading procedures, such as improper use of prods and steep chutes, may cause quality to suffer.

"I know that if producers follow specific guidelines, they will be able to reduce in-transit losses," says Dewey.

Researchers observed loading procedures at 48 farms, finding several practices that would reduce animal stress.

For example, pigs are afraid of shadows and are more comfortable traveling with familiar hogs. So, Dewey encourages farmers to transport pigs in the same groups in which they are housed. And finally, loading and offloading onto trucks can cause stress in livestock, so she recommends minimizing the use of assembly yards where possible.

Transport stress is a particular problem in the summer. When combined with motion sickness and high temperatures, stress can be fatal, or cause meat that's likely to be too pale and soft, or too dry and firm. The problem begins when pigs are moved out of barns or pens. Dewey recommends minimizing the use of electric prods.

Other measures that can be taken to reduce stress include eliminating narrow hallways and right-angled corners that slow pig movement, and lessening the ramp incline for loading. Ramps should be no steeper than 25 degrees; anything more than that is perceived as a straight wall, from a pig's viewpoint.

Dewey says the benefits of this study could be widespread, if its recommendations are followed. Producers could experience fewer losses during transport and a better end product for consumers. "It all comes down to improving transport for pigs," she says.

Other researchers involved in this project are Prof. Tina Widowski, Animal and Poultry Science; Prof. Robert Friendship and Dr. Charles Haley, Population Medicine.

Funding was supplied by Ontario Pork, as part of the In-Transit Loss Committee of producers, transporters and packers and by Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

Arthur Churchyard is a writer with SPARK, the University of Guelph's student writing program.

Source: Ontario Pork, April 2006

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