This week I was asked if I had any data on the impact of transport distance on weight loss and recovery in weaned pigs. Transport loss has the potential to be a big factor in our industry as almost all weaned pigs are relocated at weaning, with the majority tending to travel at least 50 miles or more in my experience.
While she was at the University of Manitoba, Nora Lewis conducted several research trials on this topic using 17 day-old weaned pigs. In general, her conclusions were that there was minimal impact of transport time on weight loss for newly weaned pigs, as long as transportation conditions weren’t either severely hot or severely cold.
In one trial she transported pigs 0, 6, 12 or 24 hr. Maximum weight loss was recorded at 2.4d post –wean, regardless of transport time. Weight loss averaged 6.9% of weaning weight and pigs returned to weaning weight at 3.7d post-wean.
For weaned pigs, the time off feed and water is really the result of weaning behavior and making the transition from sow’s milk offered from a private feeder (teat) to competing for feed and water in the nursery or wean-finish facility.
In the mid 1980’s I did a similar trial with 50 lb feeder pigs. We either transported the pigs 15 miles from the source to the research farm or 608 miles. In both instances, pigs did not have feed or water access for the same length of time. Weight loss was 10.1% for the 608 mile transported pigs and 9.6% for the 15 mile transported pigs.
In both of the studies just cited, weight loss from transport is primarily associated with the time off feed and water and has limited association with the distance transported.
In feeder pigs and grow-finish pigs, motion sickness is an issue. It’s not as clear whether newly weaned pigs experience it to the same level as feeder pigs and slaughter pigs. Studies have demonstrated that the vibration of transport vehicles is very disturbing to pigs, especially if they experience these vibrations shortly after a meal. Motion sickness (as demonstrated by vomiting) is decreased when feed is withheld for 4-6 hr before transit.
Transport weight loss should not be a major concern for anyone selling pigs on a carcass weight basis. In general, carcass weight is not impacted until pigs have been off feed for 12 to 24 hours. The research seems to suggest an average time of about 16-17 hours after the last meal before carcass weights begins to decline. If we assume 3-5 hours lairage time for the typical pig in US slaughter plants, this means a 12 hour removal of feed access when possible prior to the expected ‘dock time’ won’t change carcass weight.