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ARS Home » Midwest Area » West Lafayette, Indiana » Livestock Behavior Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #341211

Research Project: Safeguarding Well-being of Food Producing Animals

Location: Livestock Behavior Research

Title: Testing the feasibility of using a conveyor belt to load weanling and nursery pigs for transportation

item Lay, Jr, Donald - Don
item SAPKOTA, AVI - Former ARS Employee
item Enneking, Stacey

Submitted to: Translational Animal Science
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/23/2017
Publication Date: 6/15/2017
Citation: Lay Jr., D.C., Sapkota, A., Enneking, S.A. 2017. Testing the feasibility of using a conveyor belt to load weanling and nursery pigs for transportation. Translational Animal Science. 1:1-9. doi:10.2527/tas2017.0033.

Interpretive Summary: Approximately 199 million pigs are marketed yearly, illustrating the importance of proper loading and handling to ensure adequate animal welfare. In addition, pigs are transported multiple times in their life, including when they are weaned, moved from the nursery, and moved to the finisher. Therefore, pigs are exposed to at least two transportation events in their lifetime. Very little research has been done on the effects of transportation of young pigs, but transportation has been established as a multi-factorial stressor for market weight animals. The objective of this study was to determine if loading piglets into a trailer with a conveyor would make the procedures less stressful and thus improve welfare. Two age groups, Weaned and Nursery pigs, were used to compare animals that had differing degrees of mobility. The results from this study indicate that it is feasible to load pigs using a conveyor. In terms of decreasing the amount of stress to which pigs are exposed, however, there appears to be little advantage in doing so, based on behavioral and physiologic data collected in this experiment. Although pigs hesitated for a few more seconds when approaching the moving conveyor, the conveyor worked to move pigs more quickly up to the trailer. Thus, the total time to load between Conveyor pigs and Control pigs was the same. Swine producers can choose to load pigs with traditional ramps or they can choose a mechanical conveyor without decreasing animal welfare.

Technical Abstract: Transportation is known to be a multi-faceted stressor, with the process of loading being one of the most significant factors impacting the stress to which animals are exposed. This project was designed to determine if using a conveyor to load pigs into the top deck of a simulated straight deck trailer could lower the stress to which pigs and handlers are exposed. Pigs were assigned to either a Control group that were herded up a stationary conveyor ramp into a top deck trailer (2.5 m above the ground); or Conveyor group which were herded onto a mobile conveyor into a top deck trailer. The conveyor was 7.6 m long, 0.9 m wide and rose to 2.5 m high at a 16 ° slope, and moved 11.3 m/min. Two age groups were tested, Weaned pigs which were moved in groups of 20 (n = 14 groups/treatment); and Nursery pigs which were moved in groups of 10 (n = 15 groups/treatment). Behavior was recorded during loading, including slips and falls, vocalizations, assists, and time to load. Heart rate of 2 sentinel pigs/group and the handler were recorded during loading, and body temperature of the handler after loading. Pigs were held in the simulated trailer for 30 min while heart rate was recorded. After which, they were unloaded and held in a holding pen for an additional 30 min while heart rate was again recorded. There were no treatment differences for slips or falls (P < 0.90). Vocalizations were too few to statistically analyze. Both Weaned (2.8 ± 0.7) and Nursery (1.6 ± 0.5) Conveyor pigs needed to be assisted onto the conveyor more than Weaned (1.6 ± 0.5) and Nursery (0.3 ± 0.1) Control pigs (P < 0.06). There was no difference in total loading time between the treatments for any age group (P < 0.15), with Weaned and Nursery pigs loading in 50 to 45 s respectively. There were no treatment differences for heart rate variability measures (P > 0.10). However, loading increased heart rate of Nursery pigs (P < 0.005), but not Weaned pigs. Nursery pigs had a greater ratio of low frequency to high frequency power during loading (P < 0.02) compared to other phases of the procedure in both Control and Conveyor groups. Heart rate and body temperature of the handler was not effected by treatment (P < 0.26). Based on behavior and physiology the pigs had similar experiences in both treatments. This study shows that it is feasible to use a conveyor to load pigs and is not detrimental, but it may not be advantageous either.