The pork industry extends its hog-handling focus from truckers to a broader Transport Quality Assurance program.

To minimize pork quality losses during transportation and handling, the pork industry has launched (Feb. 1) the Transport Quality Assurance (TQA) program, which replaces the Trucker Quality Assurance program.

The new endeavor focuses on truckers (as transporters), but also includes producers and other handlers of pigs and the potential impact their actions have on animal welfare and/or pork quality.

Estimates show that bruises can cost the U.S. pork industry millions of dollars per year, while overall pork quality defects total several hundred million dollars annually.

“The acronym may be the same — TQA — but the program has been changed, revised and expanded to encompass more of the pork industry that handles pigs,” reports Erik Risa, education program manager, National Pork Board.

This launch represents the third version of TQA; the original program was introduced in 2002. Recertification by participants and revision of the program is still scheduled to take place every three years, explains Risa. Producers don't have to recertify for the new program until their three-year certification period expires, he emphasizes.

New TQA Takes Big Step

Risa admits this program launch is a big step, but was a necessary one to remove the stereotype that hog handling is just about the trucker.

“You begin to assume that the program is only for someone who is going to jump behind the wheel of the truck and drive, when more importantly, we hope to implement TQA to a much wider target audience, to the folks who are loading crews, pork producers, receiving crews at the packing plant and other places,” he explains.

“TQA is really an elaborate animal handling program that goes all the way back to all of the preparation that needs to be made prior to loading the hogs, such as walking the pens, that we are hopeful will be considered,” says Risa.

The earlier program versions placed the focus on market hog transportation, when hog handling is so much broader than that, he stresses.

“We are trying to provide more information as it relates to weaner and feeder pigs as well as breeding stock that are being moved, whether that is replacement gilts coming in or market sows or boars that are going out,” Risa elaborates. The goal is to “open the door a bit wider and provide more information on animal handling in different phases within the production chain,” he notes.

Most packers have had auditing programs covering hog handling practices at the plant for some time, explains Risa, so the new TQA program will focus on areas that have been bypassed.

“When we talk about receiving crews, we typically talk about them at the packing plant level because that is where a lot of the transportation focus goes, but there are also receiving crews that are taking in feeder pigs or nursery pigs, and we are hoping to provide more information in those areas.”

With a large percentage of young pigs originating in Canada and North Carolina, but finished in the Midwest, the need to refine hog handling skills is high.

“Knowing how to move each of these groups from the piglets that weigh only a few pounds, to the 260-lb. market hog, and up to a boar or sow that may weigh well over 400 lb., is important because each time a pig is handled, there is an opportunity to impact pig well-being and pork quality,” Risa says, quoting the new TQA handbook.

Other Program Changes

More complete information about the importance of proper biosecurity practices is stressed in this version of the TQA program.

Because diseases can be introduced into herds through the loading and transportation processes, “it is imperative that handlers both in production facilities and those who are driving trucks take the necessary steps and follow biosecurity protocols to minimize the spread of disease agents and ensure the health of animals they interact with,” the TQA handbook states.

Emergency response is another area of focus in the new handbook. It spells out six areas of responsibility that the transporter must meet in the event of an emergency:

  • Being aware of and preparing to handle emergencies;

  • Ensuring the transporter's personal safety and an awareness of public safety;

  • Responding to situations professionally;

  • Ensuring the well-being and humane treatment of the animals;

  • Providing the protection of company property (animals and equipment); and

  • Projecting a positive perception of the company and the industry.

Prevention planning such as checking the travel route, weather and performing routine maintenance and tractor-trailer inspections can help avoid transportation problems and delays. However, be prepared if delays or accidents occur.

“We know that each situation is going to be different, but it might be worthwhile to develop a checklist that each person in a situation has to consider,” Risa suggests.

The handbook also deals with laws and regulations, pointing out that the “28-hour law” in effect says that hogs cannot be transported for more than 28 hours at any one time.

The “fitness of the pig” section describes three types of pigs that raise concerns when loading hogs for transport — sick, injured and fatigued. Producers should be cognizant that these are three distinct conditions that require different treatments.

Fatigued hogs, perhaps most of all, are animals that may be unable to walk, but with proper rest, often will recover enough to be loaded onto a truck and shipped.

When hogs don't recover or are non-ambulatory, an approved method of euthanasia should be carried out on the farm, says Risa.

Worker Safety Added

“The final piece we have added to this handbook is the issue of worker safety as it relates to animal handling,” Risa says. “We are finding that most injuries that occur on the farm are happening in interactions with animals in handling. We want to make sure that handlers are using all of the right materials, but also the right personal protective equipment for handling.

“For instance, proper use of the sorting board is a more effective animal handling tool. It also helps prevent work-related injuries, as it serves as a barrier between the animal and the handler, which is a theme that is emphasized throughout the new TQA program,” Risa says.

The electric prod is listed as the “tool of last resort,” according to the handbook. A sorting board/panel, plastic rattle, nylon flag, matador's cape and plastic ribbons on a stick are all approved handling tools.

Documentation

Throughout the TQA program, participants are encouraged to document events: “Write everything down and keep some records of what happens,” Risa says.

Information may become useful, for instance, within the bill of lading as this form can be signed by both the producer and the truck driver. If a compromising situation occurs where one party wants to load a hog and the other does not, documentation provides evidence that the pig in question was loaded into a particular compartment, should it be challenged, Risa explains.

“We live in a world where if you didn't write it down, it didn't happen. We are trying to promote a record-keeping system that can help work through some of those compromising situations,” he observes.

Two-Tiered Training

TQA training is two-tiered. The old TQA program included about 400 instructors, and a similar total is expected for the new TQA effort. Advisor training is underway. The training schedule can be found on the Pork Board's Web site, www.pork.org.

The Pork Board is offering a one-time, free online training session for previously certified advisors to become certified in the new program. New advisors who cannot take advantage of this offer can still attend an all-day, face-to-face training session that costs $150, Risa points out.

Advisors must become recertified after Feb. 1, and then can only provide training using the new TQA program materials.

Pork producers and other hog handlers sign up with an advisor for training and must achieve a 90% passing grade in order to become a certified TQA handler. The previous TQA program had between 11,000 and 15,000 certified truckers, and Risa expects that number will rise significantly as more handlers in the pork chain become certified.

“At the end of the day, the spirit of TQA is that through animal care, we have improved pork quality for our customers, and this program is one way we can do that through proper animal handling and transportation,” Risa concludes. “We are able to build on the trust of our consumers and customers by demonstrating the value of certification and the proactive stance the pork industry is taking with this new program.”