Brent Jones from South West Ontario Veterinary Services, Moving Non-ambulatory Pigs: Finding The Better Way

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In the USA, humane swine handling is directed through the Pork Quality Assurance Plus and Transport Quality Assurance programs. These standards require that sick or injured non-ambulatory pigs are to be moved with the use of a “drag mat”. Placing a non-ambulatory pig on a drag mat allows the animal to rest upon the mat and this allows the pulling forces to be exerted on the mat rather than directly on the pig. This reduces stress and risk of injury to both pig and producer. Although finding an effective and practical drag mat sounds simple in concept the mat needs to be  economical, safe for pig and worker. Easier said than done. Previously caretakers had been using rubber weaning mats which have been difficult to maneuver, heavy, easy to tear and allowed the pigs to slide off.

Finding the better way! Behavior and welfare researchers at Iowa State University Department of Animal Science set up a study that evaluated the experience of workers in a pork production facility using several different types of drag mats.  On-farm testing was accomplished using three sizes of pig cadavers (59, 91, 98 kg) and staff had to move pigs through a distance that would be typical of a trip from a home pen to a hospital pen in a commercial barn. Surveys were obtained from all employees for all cadaver tasks.

The researchers observed that rolling, positioning and re-positioning cadavers, and moving from home to hospital pen were all ranked as easy or very easy.  Restraining the cadavers onto the sked was ranked as very easy and three employees commented on the ease of clipping the buckles. The deer sled was ranked as difficult or neutral on restraining the cadavers because the deer sled’s string restraints took time to secure.  Size and weight of the sked and deer sled were ranked as easy, while the modified deer sled was ranked as very easy.

Overall the researchers came to the following conclusions:

  • the sked was the easiest tool to use overall, in part because of convenient, buckle-type restraints that helped keep the cadavers in place
  • the deer sled was ranked as more difficult or neutral due to the longer time it took to secure string-type restraints.
  • The modified deer sled was considered very easy to use due to its size and weight but was not preferred because it had no restraint straps.

Take Home Message:

  • It appears that  all three of these options outperformed the rubber mat
  • It does not look like we quite have the most practical combination of ease of restraint, ease of handling and  the most economical cost .
  • Someone needs to “Pull a McGyver!” on this one.

Ref: Johnson, A , Stalder, K , Millman, S , Ross, J , Jass, C , Stinn, J & Akin, E . (2019) “Employee Survey to Determine Movement Ease for Grow-Finish Pig Cadavers On-Farm using a Sked, Deer Sled and Modified Deer Sled”, Animal Industry Report. 2019(1). doi: /air.8037

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