"Fatigued Pigs: The Transportation Link"

Pork Magazine, February 1, 2006

John McGlone, a swine expert from Texas Tech University offers some good advice in a series of articles for (U.S.) Pork Magazine, based on an extensive, multi-disciplinary study of fatigued and dead pigs.

He emphasises that stress has an additive effect and shipping is a new and stressful experience, involving loading, transport, unloading and processing. Even if pigs have travelled previously, many conditions will be different. Proper transport techniques can minimize the incidence of dead and fatigued pigs.

The study involved multiple loads in which 38 drivers moved more than 1 million animals, with dead- and fatigued-pig rates ranging 0.02-1.4%. Stress factors include new social groupings and new smells, flooring, lighting, temperature and humidity, as well as the actions of the driver during the trip. Truck set-up and driver behaviour were identified as major issues.

Conditions inside a truck can range from comfortable to deadly, and must be managed by bedding, side-slats and misters to maintain an equable temperature. Outside it may be hot, moderate or cold, dry or humid, stable or changeable, depending on weather and the geography of long journeys. Conditions inside the truck/trailer are very different from the exterior, and excess heat, which builds up more rapidly during stops, can be particularly stressful. Similarly, humidity rises as the pigs breathe out moist air, and urine adds water and ammonia. When the external air temperature exceeds 23C (75F), drivers should stop and adjust side-slats, then keep moving or park by a bank of fans. Misters can be used sparingly, but added humidity can be dangerous if the truck remains stationary. Temperatures of 34C (95F), and 95% humidity are killers; hot weather raises death rates, cold causes fatigue. It is important that bedding be adequate to provide a secure footing and cold weather comfort, and remain essentially dry until arrival.

As for truck-trailers, the straight-deck type has somewhat lower death and injury rates than the pot-belly type, but a slightly higher fatigue rate. However the most significant factor is the driver, who should be trained and certified by a national programme.

Shippers should insist on specific requirements including stop-times and contingency plans for any unanticipated delays, as well as standards for bedding, pig-space, side-slats and heating/cooling arrangements. Wise producers will require packers to monitor and notify them of drivers' records for dead and fatigued pigs.

In summary McGlone advises producers to ensure that drivers are properly qualified and certified; that they understand operating procedures for hot, cold and changing weather conditions en route; that packers score drivers' performance and provide feedback; that flags, capes or paddles, never electric prods, are used to move pigs; and that adequate bedding is provided.