Improvements in transport conditions for slaughter pigs

Even with extreme low temperatures this past week, movement of slaughter weight pigs to slaughter plants continued. One obvious question, what about transit losses due to cold weather? I heard from a packer buyer in the upper midwest who reported no change in the number of deads in transit within their system versus last year. In fact, they were actually seeing a slight improvement in this category over last year.

The reason I began thinking about this is my memories of slaughter pig transport in the 1960-70’s. My family moved from the farm to ‘town’ in 1963 when my father bought a 50% interest in a hog buying station and livestock transport firm in Osage, Iowa. My father sold his share of the business in 1971. In 1968 I acquired a CDL and helped with transport of both hogs and cattle when I was home from college, etc. Prior to that date I spent quite a bit of time helping with various tasks around the station and riding along with loads of pigs and cattle.

I think many of us remember those days. It was not uncommon for a producer to bring 8-10 pigs to the buying station crowded in the back of a pickup. On cold days, some producers attempted to modify conditions in the pickup bed by adding some pieces of plywood to the stockrack on the pickup, but the top was open to wind, etc. It was not uncommon on very cold days to have several pigs arrive at the buying station with frost-bitten or even frozen ears. On occasion, we even suspected that the loin had begun to freeze where there was excessive wind across the back of the pigs during transport. Lame pigs as a result of transport conditions to the local buying station were a common occurrence.

Contrast that with how we transport pigs today. Even when producers transport pigs to a local buying station, they most often have an enclosed trailer that they tow with their pickup truck. In winter, they close up the ventilation holes to reduce drafts and heat loss. In the summer, they wet down the pigs and any sand used as a traction aid to assist the pigs in maintaining body temperatures.

A vast majority of the truckers who transport pigs to slaughter plants have been through the National Pork Board’s ‘Trucker Quality Assurance’ program. They take their responsiblity for animal welfare seriously and in cold weather add covers over the ventilation side panels of their trailers and increase the amount of saw dust and wood chip bedding in their trailers.

The next result – cold weather no longer is as large of a negative for pig welfare during pig transport as it was 30-40 years ago.

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