The transportation and handling of swine in commercial operations



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Texas Tech University


Objectives: The primary objective of this work was to evaluate the transportation and handling of pigs with a view of reducing dead and fatigued pigs in commercial operations. Five studies were undertaken to examine differing aspects of pig transport and handling. Fatigued pigs are considered detrimental to the pig industry in the USA due to the large associated costs.

Methods: Study 1 examined the effect of maternal pheromone on reducing fatigued pigs on route to the processing plant. This study was undertaken on a commercial operation in the US Midwest. The maternal pheromone was applied to the truck in the first part of this study and the truck and lairage pens during the second part. Information collected included a welfare audit and measures of meat quality. Study 2 examined the effects of a novel environment (handling, ramps, and alleys) on a pigs physiological state. Cardiovascular rate, immune, glucocorticoids, time, and handling measures were all taken to determine differences between the naïve and pre-exposed groups. In study 3 we measured the efficacy of handling devices when moving pigs, and also the effect of drafts on pig movement. This study also measured cardiovascular rate, time, and handling measures. The pigs were moved through a standard course using the different handling devices. Study 4 examined the effect of group size on the movement of pigs. Again, the pigs were moved through the standard handling course and cardiovascular rates, time, and handling score. Finally, study 5 was a pilot study to help establish if there is a time of day influence to fatigued pigs. It could be suggested that fatigued pigs are due to lack of feed left in the stomach after a long period of transportation. Firstly, the pigs behavior was analyzed to see how many times a day eat. Once this was achieved, chromic oxide was used as a marker to see how fast feed travels through the gastro-intestinal tract. Once these data were combined an hours until empty could be calculated during differing periods of transport for each hour of the day.

Results: The results for this study helped in the understanding of pigs’ response to stressors during handling and transportation. The maternal pheromone study did yield encouraging results in terms of a reduction in fatigued pigs however this was not a significant result. In terms of significant results obtained from this study it could be considered that the pheromone created more handling difficulties, but more research is needed. The handling experiments yielded much more significant data. It is clear that handling pigs causes them stress. Though not conclusive through the measurement of cortisol, the heart rate data is clearly compelling. It also seems not to matter what device were use during handling as they all performed similarly however handling with the flag resulted in slower progress. The effects of drafts on pigs were not significant. Finally, from modeling undertaken from the feed studies it is clear that shipping animals early in the morning might not be the ideal when the transit time will be high. This situation could result in many animals on the truck becoming hungry and more prone to fatigue as they will have no feed in their digestive tract. The fatigued pig problem is currently a massive issue within the US pig industry today. Not only should it be the goal of the pig industry to research fatigued pigs to reduce the associated costs but also to improve animal welfare.