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Hauling Hogs in the Hot or Cold

CALGARY, Alta. - Unlike many of their four-legged cousins, hogs don't have the luxury of a fur coat to protect them from the elements when the mercury drops. Pigs that have been carelessly loaded and left unprotected from cold winter winds while i...


CALGARY, Alta. – Unlike many of their four-legged cousins, hogs don’t have the luxury of a fur coat to protect them from the elements when the mercury drops. Pigs that have been carelessly loaded and left unprotected from cold winter winds while in transit have been known to succumb to the extreme weather, many times literally freezing to the trailer walls and floor.

But pigs can be safely transported during the winter months, provided the trucker takes the proper steps to protect the animals on-board. For starters, when it’s cold outside, it’s important to increase the amount of bedding in the trailer, advises hog handling expert Tim O’Byrne.

“In cold weather the hogs need plenty of bedding for warmth and protection from the cold trailer floor,” he says.

A common misconception in the livestock hauling business is that adding more hogs in cold weather will keep them warmer as a result of the increased body heat. This is actually dangerous, since overloading prevents the hogs from changing positions, subjecting them to frostbite.

“Do not overcrowd the animals in cold weather assuming they will utilize the extra body heat to stay warm,” warns O’Byrne.

“Overcrowding makes it harder for the hogs to lie down in the warm bedding and move away from the colder trailer sides.”

Even during the winter, proper ventilation is essential. Closing up the trailer’s hog sides too much can result in suffocation, so truckers must be constantly aware of any distress the animals are suffering and adjust them accordingly. That may mean boarding up one side more than the other to protect the pigs from cross-winds.

“The boards can be added as needed. The best drivers will even board up, say, 80 per cent on the windy side and 30 per cent on the lee side as they drive down the highway,” O’Byrne says. “Some of these guys are experts at boarding for perfection.”

Warning signs that indicate a load of hogs is too cold include: squealing; eating their bedding; fighting; and fidgeting in the trailer.

The Canadian Agri-Food Research Council (CARC) has published a recommended code of practice for the care and handling of farm animals during transportation. It suggests that in extremely cold weather, truckers replace the bottom slats in the trailer to protect the animals. The nose vents can also be closed off – just remember to allow enough ventilation.

Wet bedding should be removed and replaced as soon as possible and the livestock should be protected from rain or blowing snow. When parking, O’Byrne suggests squeezing between two freight vans at the truck stop to shield the animals from the wind. Hauling hogs in the hot and humid summer months poses challenges as well. Even though pigs don’t have fur, they can still become too hot and die of heat exhaustion.

“Hogs don’t have sweat glands like other animals,” points out O’Byrne. “Instead, they pant. In hot weather it is not only the ambient temperature but the humidity factor that causes heat exhaustion.”

Proper ventilation during the summer months is imperative. It’s essential to keep air moving through the trailer and that means keeping the trailer moving. Whenever possible, truckers should plan their deliveries to avoid stop-and-go rush hour traffic. Night-time and early morning deliveries are best during the summer months.

When adjusting the ventilation slats, remember that the air enters the trailer from the rear and passes through to the front of the trailer.

“Roll your rear car windows down and crack the front one halfway. You’ll see that the air enters the back windows and blows your papers toward the front, due to the vortex created by the moving vehicle,” O’Byrne explains.

Some of the best hog carriers now have on-board misting systems that can be used to cool the animals down if they get too hot or if the vehicle must be parked. If it’s necessary to park the vehicle, do so out off direct sunlight and try to minimize the amount of time stopped. O’Byrne suggests loading about 15 per cent fewer hogs in extremely warm, humid weather.

CARC advises truckers to handle hogs carefully while loading in hot weather, to avoid over-exertion. It also suggests truckers water the floor of the trailer to help keep the hogs cool. Never pour cold water directly on the animals, however, as this can cause death due to shock.

Spec’ing the right truck is also a consideration.

For instance, while aerodynamic air foils may help you maximize your fuel efficiency, they may disrupt the flow of air through the trailer, reducing the ventilation and causing the hogs to overheat.

Again, it’s important to check the state of the animals regularly to ensure they are not suffering. Signs suggesting a load of pigs is suffering from heat exhaustion include: panting; laying down and not getting up; and standing with their head down, breathing rapidly.

Generally, you should load fewer hogs for a long-haul than for a local run. O’Byrne says pigs tend to lie down if the trip is any more than four hours long.

“Therefore they can’t be loaded as tight as a short haul because they will fight for space to lie down and stress themselves out,” he explains.

If you’re getting paid by the pig or the pound, overloading may be tempting. But remember, it’s better to leave a few hogs behind than to deliver them dead on arrival.

Transporting hogs is a year-round business. Protecting them from the elements whether it is January or July should be as well.


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