Trailer design makes a difference when loading and unloading hogs

Transportation of livestock in general has created a significant amount of interest in regard to animal welfare, primarily transport losses.

Transport losses are referred to as pigs that die or become non-ambulatory (unable to walk) during any part of the marketing process. Furthermore, transport losses represent multiple challenges to the entire food chain with major implications to animal welfare and economics such as direct financial losses to the pork producer and pork processor.

Trailer design is one of the many factors that may influence the level of stress for pigs being transported. In a study by Kephart et al (2010), researchers observed the unloading of 41,474 market pigs in 242 separate trailer loads. The percentage of pigs exhibiting open-mouth breathing transported on potbelly trailers was greater than that of pigs transported on straight-deck conventional and straight-deck, wide-opening trailers.

Similar results were reported by Ritter et al (2008) that studied the effects of season and distance moved during loading on transport losses of market-weight pigs comparing two different trailer types. Results indicated that signs of open-mouth breathing in pigs unloaded from potbelly trailers were greater in the spring and summer compared to pigs unloaded from the straight deck trailer type. Additionally, the incidence of skin discoloration was greater in pigs unloaded from potbelly trailers in the spring, summer and winter.

It is imperative that producers and transporters are cognoscente of the many factors associated with transportation management of pigs with trailer design being one of those factors. With proper transportation management practices and an extensive understanding of animal handling techniques, the pork industry can assure that a proactive approach is being taken to address the concerns for animal well being and economics.

Read more in the December 2010 issue of Pork Quarterly

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