Driven to Succeed: Transport Study Keeps Industry Rolling
Ensuring Safe Travel for Pig Passengers
All puns aside, the impact of transport on pig health is no laughing matter. The toll on animals from trucking can impact animal welfare and performance, sometimes leading to death losses that are also deadly to the bottom line. Though the “why” of moving pigs is obvious, how and when it’s done could be the difference between a smooth trip and a rocky ride for pigs and producers.
While there has been considerable research on transporting finisher pigs, less is known about weaners. Although the pandemic made studying the latter a challenge, scientists pressed on, obtaining data for thousands of weaner loads from across the country. By analyzing the information, they addressed a key goal of their study: identifying factors that influence mortality during transport, in both eastern and western Canada.
Potbellies and pigs
Just as potbellies can be hazardous to human health, the study found that trips using potbelly trailers had greater average mortality than runs employing other trailer types. Weather was also a factor, with pigs in Western Canada experiencing the worst mortality during winter, while summer was the worst season in Eastern Canada. Certainly, the higher losses during extreme weather were not a shock to researchers. At the same time, they did take note of weaner pigs being more susceptible to the cold versus finishers, who struggle more in the heat than in cold weather during transport. This last point underlines the differing needs of pigs at various stages of life while in transit.
The common thread throughout the project was finding areas where strategies could be developed to reduce the risk of weaners perishing during weaner transport. For example, in a study comparing long and short duration transport, pigs that were shipped longer distances were pre-weaned and had greater familiarity with feeders, making for a smoother transition when they arrived at the nursery barn. By contrast, short transport pigs were weaned just before loading, leading to mixing aggression and more acute stress response when they reached their destination. This suggests that weaning on farm prior to transport may reduce death losses, though more study is needed given the logistical challenges for producers in making this change.
Putting problems to bed
Often in research, finding answers begins with asking the right questions, and this project prompted a few queries: With higher mortality for weaners in the winter in western Canada, are we bedding them properly? Do we need to look at other bedding options? How exactly do various trailer types, and different compartments within the same trailer, affect pigs? In eastern Canada, how does the combination of humidity and high temperatures interact with space allowance, and how critical is forced ventilation under these conditions? As part of this study, scientists have begun monitoring more loads in Canada with technology that pinpoints aspects like temperature and humidity within the truck, hoping it will lead to answers.
Using hydraulic 4-deck trailers, which are commonly deployed to transport large numbers of weaner pigs, researchers are starting to dig more deeply into temperature and space allowance for individual compartments. Armed with this knowledge, they plan to work with trailer manufacturers on developing control systems that can help to maintain ideal temperatures throughout the truck.
The research team also stresses the importance of proper training for pig transport drivers. Though most drivers are very knowledgeable, turnover in the industry means others may lack awareness of key practices. Absent the cutting edge technology, drivers should be gauging temperature by stopping periodically to stick their hand into compartments. Since temperatures can build up quickly when a trailer is stationary with a full load of pigs, thereby reducing air flow, loading should be done as quickly as possible. As well, drivers should depart immediately once their truck is loaded, especially in hot conditions.
A pan-Canadian initiative can be a daunting task, so the alliance of academia and industry was critical for success. Central to the project were Dr. Yolande Seddon, assistant professor, Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine, and Drs. Terry O’Sullivan and Renee Bergeron, both associate professors at the University of Guelph. They were assisted by PhD student Hannah Golightly, who presented a poster on the project at the Porc Show in 2022.
For its part, industry was represented by Marie-Josée Turgeon, quality and animal welfare coordinator – pork production at Olymel L.P., and Dr. Egan Brockhoff, president and a practicing veterinarian with Prairie Swine Health Services.
Regardless of their background, all parties shared a common vision: If we can better understand the processes of weaning and weaner transport, and the conditions that piglets require during transport, we will reduce death losses and improve the performance of these animals when they arrive at the nursery.
Project Title: Effects of long distance transport on the health and welfare of early weaned pigs
Lead(s)/Co-Lead(s): Dr. Jennifer Brown (Prairie Swine Center)
Budget: $747 331
Initially, researchers compared the effects of long and short transports. Following weaner pigs shipped from Saskatchewan to Ontario and loads within Ontario, they examined behaviour, physiology, injury scores and mortality.
They also analyzed over 6,000 transport records provided by five Canadian swine production companies, representing approximately 6.9 million piglets transported between 2014 and 2018.
The average weight of piglets was 5.7 kg. Transport events originated mostly in Ontario (61%), followed by Saskatchewan (33%) and Alberta (6%).