A University of Saskatchewan team is examining ways to deliver painkillers to pigs before they undergo any procedures and the least painful way to dehorn cattle.

“Common farming practices cause animals acute and chronic pain, but this is not due to a lack of awareness or empathy on the part of farmers,” reports University of Saskatchewan large animal scientist Joe Stookey. “Using pain control methods on farm animals is not easy, and has never been user-friendly, so it is often viewed as unrealistic in terms of cost and labor.”

Stookey leads a team armed with a five-year grant of $147,915 from the Natural Sciences and Research Council to change all that.

“We hope to get a better understanding of the perception of pain in animals and make the process of controlling pain as easy and affordable as possible to producers,” he says.

Tooth clipping, castration, tail docking and vaccination within 24 hours of birth are common baby pig management practices. As it is unfeasible to give painkillers to each piglet, Stookey’s team is investigating giving a sow a single injection to transfer painkillers through her milk to piglets within hours after birth.

Part two of the study will use an overhead camera and microphone system to find out if 1-month-old calves being de-horned are reacting to pain or restraint, says Stookey.