Low Stress Swine Handling Course Uses Video to Highlight Proper Handling Techniques

CANADA - A new low stress swine handling course, designed specifically for the drivers that haul hogs, is using video to take the trailers, the drivers the pigs and their responses into the classroom.
calendar icon 21 July 2007
clock icon 7 minute read

White Fox, Saskatchewan-based DNL Farms, with the assistance of Linden, Alberta-based Lester Reimer Trucking has developed a new low stress swine handling course for truck drivers. The course, which is delivered in a classroom setting, uses video recorded in the field to highlight techniques designed to make it easier to move pigs.

Low Stress Handling Harnesses the Animal's Survival Instincts

DNL partner Nancy Lidster says, “What we’re looking at doing is working with the animal’s actual survival instincts.”

“Once we start handling them and moving them they start to worry a little bit about their own safety and their survival responses kick in. When we understand what those responses are, we can modify what we’re doing to get the responses that we want,” Lidster explains.

She notes, “In the case of moving stock onto trailers and in trailers and off again we’re working with fairly high animal densities and we’re working in a confined space. Those conditions limit the pig’s ability to move and respond to their handlers.”

“Those conditions will encourage animals to either bunch up and stop moving or to try to circle back on their handlers. When handlers understand that, they can make use of that knowledge to get animals to move more freely.”

Classroom Training Augmented with Video

The course itself utilizes video recorded over an approximately two week period aboard one of the Lester Reimer trucks driven by Tim Dearborn.

Dearborn recalls, “It started with Nancy coming for a ride with me and watching what I did. And then explaining a few things to me about what she was doing in the training program so I could change a few things on what I did on the video for her. She had three cameras that had clamps on them that I could move within the trailer to show inside the trailer, what I was doing and how I was doing it. Also I could shoot outside the trailer into the barn to show how the barn workers are bringing the hogs toward me.”

Lidster estimates, “We’ve got somewhere between 25 and 30 hours of video. What I’ve been able to do with that is pull out clips that show, that actually demonstrate responses that are going to be both helpful and interfere with what the drivers are trying to do. What we’re doing is using the video instead of going out and actually trying to work in a trailer or that sort of thing with people around watching. [We] sort of bring the trailer and the pigs and the driver and the responses into the classroom so that people can actually see what we're talking about.”

Slight Modifications Pay Large Dividends

Dearborn notes, although he has been working with pigs for a lot of years, after spending the first week with Nancy he changed a few of the techniques he uses for handling hogs.

“I still do almost exactly the same thing, but I understand a little bit more now why I did it and how to do it a little bit better just with using my body position inside the trailer to make the hogs go where I want them to go.”

The DNL Farms low stress swine handling training has now been delivered to the majority of Lester Reimer’s drivers and it is now available to anyone interested.

Less Stress Means Better Meat

Lester Reimer dispatcher Daryl Toews says 80 percent of the company’s drivers have now taken the course and the benefits offered by this type of training are great.

“The hogs would tend to settle into a new location better, depending on what kind of hogs you were hauling. If you’re hauling smaller type pigs that are going to another barn they would settle in nicer. There would be less sickness. They would be under less stress so really they would settle in much better.”

In the case of market hogs, he adds, “Hogs that have been through a lot of stress have a poorer meat quality and because of that it’s not as salable a product. If we combine that with extra bruising by incorrect handling of livestock the losses could be quite large.”

Excess Aggression Counterproductive in Handling Livestock

Lidster notes, “In a lot of cases, for the drivers, what we’re doing is showing them patterns that they see on a daily basis and, in some cases, they will already be doing the things that we are recommending. In other cases it’s a matter of saying here’s this pattern that you see on a regular basis or that's familiar to you. Here’s something that you can do with it that will let you use it more effectively to get the stock either onto the trailer or off the trailer.”

She observes, “Quite often handlers will tend to get more aggressive to get animals to move and not realize the response they’re getting that they’re not wanting is actually a fear response.”

“You have to have enough pressure to get them to move but increasing fear levels will actually interfere with what we’re trying to do. If we understand how to get the movement going and how to work with what they give us then we can simplify things quite a bit.”

Safety Also a Consideration

Dearborn believes this is just the type of program the trucking industry needs, just to make sure the drivers are able to handle the livestock safely and properly.

“A driver that doesn’t know how to handle livestock going into a pen of either cattle or say large hogs, the 600 and 700 pound cull boars and sows or even just the 250 pound market hogs, if they don’t know what to do inside a trailer they can be hurt very quickly.”

Training Fills a Void

Dearborn observes, “In the driver schools they teach you how to drive a truck and maybe how to tie down certain freight; but there is no real school that I know of that gives you hands on training on how to handle livestock which is a lot different than any other freight. You’ve got a live critter that you have to keep either cool or keep warm and on its feet or just make sure that it’s made comfortable for the duration of its trip.”

He notes, “These days we see animal rights people following our trucks and coming to see what happens and raising grief with us in the industry that we’re not taking the correct precautions or that we’re cruel to animals. Just about any livestock handler that I’ve ever worked with does it because they like animals not because they dislike them. You need to be a professional in order to do the job to look good in the public eye.”

Toews agrees, “For us, we’d like people to be aware that the trucking industry, the livestock industry as a whole, is addressing proper animal care.”

© 2000 - 2023 - Global Ag Media. All Rights Reserved | No part of this site may be reproduced without permission.