Pork producers use many different ways to get their hogs to market. Regardless of the vehicle, all producers have one thing in common – a concern for the welfare of pigs in transit.

Farmers should always concern for the well-being of their livestock and nowadays they’re approaching animal care with greater awareness than ever. Today’s producers have a better understanding of how handling and transportation affects meat quality and profits. The public is concerned about the treatment of farm animals and realize negative consumer attitudes can adversely affect their businesses.

Fortunately, along with this heightened awareness about animal care, pork producers also have the knowledge and technology to ensure pigs are handled and transported responsibly.

Meat Quality Means Money

Demand for quality pork is increasing due of highly competitive international export markets where quality is a major factor in buying decisions. At the same time, Canadian consumers are becoming more quality conscious as they demand maximum value for their food dollars.

This means hog producers must handle their animals with extreme care every step of the way to maintain the highest possible quality standards.

Heat, cold, fear, bumpy roads, stops and starts, prodding and rough handling – these are just some of the things that can cause stress and exhaustion in livestock during handling and transportation. And that stress can severely reduce meat quality and price.

Stress and exhaustion increase muscle temperature and deplete the supply of glycogen, the energy stored in muscle tissue that produces moist, pink, high- quality pork. When animals are stressed before slaughter, glycogen levels drop. The result is Pale, Soft, and Exudative (PSE) pork, a product that doesn’t appeal to consumers. Extreme exhaustion during transit can result in Dark, Firm, Dry (DFD) meat which has even lower consumer appeal and shorter shelf life.

Pigs and People

Pigs used to having people around experience less stress than those with limited human contact. Animal behaviorists have demonstrated farm animals regularly handled by people are easier to lead, remain calmer in transit and behave better for their handlers at the receiving end. This all helps to maintain glycogen levels and ensure top quality meat.

Getting pigs comfortable with people is as easy as walking through each pen for 10-15 seconds every day. Excited pigs are hard to handle. The goal is to teach the pigs to quietly get up and flow around you.

Loading and Unloading

All pigs experience stress to some extent during loading and unloading. But stress can be minimized through calm, patient handling and an understanding of pig behavior. By understanding the animals’ basic natural instincts during handling, farmers will be able to incorporate stress-reducing features into their buildings, transport vehicles and handling techniques.

Pigs have a strong natural urge to escape. Slight visual gaps between pens, alleys, ramps, side gates, chutes or anywhere else may tempt excited pigs to make a break for it. Even if escape is not possible, animals may injure themselves in the attempt. Eliminating visual gaps in holding facilities will reduce pigs’ urge to escape

Stress Busters

■     Move pigs in small groups

■     Eliminate visual gaps

■     Use gradual slopes and curves

■     Remove potentially frightening objects

■     Remove possible injury causes

■     Choose low-stress moving devices

Pigs also have a natural tendency to follow each other and maintain visual and body contact. For this reason, ramps should be sloped no steeper than 20 degrees and curves within a facility should be gradual. Cleats on ramps should be spaced to suit the pigs’ size. Truck decks should never be tilted to force pigs off.

Pig hides are tender. Protrusions or sharp edges along the path from pen to killing floor can inflict injury and create undue stress.

Fright is another potential source of stress. Many things can spook pigs during the loading and unloading process including air blowing in their faces, dangling chains, loose ramps and boards, slippery floors, extremes of bright lights and darkness and loud noises.


Walking through the entire loading and unloading procedure can provide a better understanding of what might frighten or upset pigs. For even greater insights into a pig’s perspective, some handlers even crawl through the process on their hands and knees. This can go a long way in reducing stress losses.

Electric prods can be dangerous to pigs. In fact, they can be a major obstacle preventing farmers from delivering valuable, high-quality pork. Improper use of prods can cause severe stress or even heart attacks and death. They must never be used on a pig’s genital, anal or facial areas or on pigs that are down or distraught. Handlers must keep electric prod use to an absolute minimum. Prods should only be held by handlers when needed. If the handler carries a prod all the time, pigs will naturally be adverse to being handled. Keep prods hung up when not in use.

Pigs should be moved in small groups (6 finisher size pigs at a time) and only with chase boards or plastic flags. Use of other devices such as canvas slappers should be kept to a minimum. Stock whips should never be used on pigs.