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GUELPH, Ont. - Transportation can be stressful on pigs, especially when confined to a vehicle on a long distance haul under extreme Canadian weather conditions. It's a situation being examined by a te...

GUELPH, Ont. – Transportation can be stressful on pigs, especially when confined to a vehicle on a long distance haul under extreme Canadian weather conditions. It’s a situation being examined by a team of Canadian researchers who are hoping to curb transport stress for pigs. Dr. Renee Bergeron, an associate professor in the Animal and Poultry Science department at the University of Guelph, is part of a research team led by Dr. Harold Gonyou, of the University of Saskatchewan, that is studying the effects of transport on pigs in Canada. The researchers have monitored the pigs before, during, and after transport, and are paying special attention to situations that might adversely affect the animals, such as distance and climate.

“There are some problems with transportation, and heat stress seems to be a major concern,” said Bergeron. “We also have a concern about truck and loading facility design.”

The first part of the five-year research program had the team analyze the effects of vehicle type on transport losses, blood stress indicators and meat quality in pigs. A total of 1,878 crossbred pigs were transported over a six-week period through June and July, 2007.The pigs travelled from a commercial growing/finishing unit to a slaughter plant. It was a two-hour journey, using two types of vehicles” a ‘potbelly’ trailer; and a compact double flat deck truck. A sub-population of 396 pigs was randomly chosen for the pork quality assessment.

The results indicate that pigs transported on the pot-belly trailer are more likely to die or to suffer from fatigue during transport. Overall, pork quality was good, states the research abstract presented at the last meeting of the Canadian Society of Animal Science, but the use of the pot-belly trailer increased the incidence of darker loins.

Another part of the hog transport research evaluated thermal responses to environmental conditions. The objective of that study was to determine core body temperatures of pigs during transport to a commercial abattoir using temperature loggers (Thermocron iButton), which are slightly larger than a dime and located in the stomach. Over six weekly trials, (through June to July, 2007), loggers were orally administered to 252 trial pigs. The results indicated that pigs loaded into the top deck compartments of the pot-belly trailer are at a greater risk for heat stress than pigs in other areas of either truck. This could be due to higher heat load and/or exertion required to climb to these compartments, according to the study.

The overall objective of the research program is to identify contributors to the stressfulness of current handling and transport practices under Canadian conditions, and to develop and assess means to reduce those stressors.

Ultimately, it is the goal of the research project to develop methods of handling and transporting pigs that will improve animal welfare, and reduce losses due to death, trim losses, and poor meat quality. The research program seeks to improve the handling of pigs during marketing by:

• Assessing the stressfulness of loading pigs under current commercial conditions in order to identify critical control points for handling;

• Developing alternative handling methods to reduce the stressfulness of loading;

• Assessing the reduction in handling stress, after the application of these new methods under commercial conditions.

The research program also seeks to reduce the stressfulness of transportation during marketing by:

• Assessing the effects of vehicle design on the pigs’ micro-environment during transport under various weather conditions, the behavioural responses of pigs to these conditions, and the impact on carcass and meat quality;

• Developing alternative vehicle design and/or management during transport to reduce transport stress;

• Assessing the effectiveness of these changes on the stressfulness of transport under various weather conditions.

According to the researchers, the research program will have many potential benefits for producers and the pork industry in general. First of all, better handling will help speed up the loading process and allow the trucker to do more trips per day. Better transportation conditions will likely help reduce mortality rates, especially during critical weather. Improvements in meat quality and reduction of trim losses will result in economic benefits, above that involved in reduced death losses.

“What we are trying to see here, is what the animal will feel when being transported,” said Jorge Correa, a grad student who is working on the project with the research team. “It has never been done before in North America.”

Furthermore, the researchers note that animal welfare concerns extend beyond the issue of death losses and carcass and meat quality. Consumer groups and international organizations such as the OIE are seeking higher standards for animal care during marketing. This research program seeks to identify means to achieve these standards within the context of Canadian conditions.

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