Housing finishing pigs in large pens and pre-sorting prior to loading vs. housing pigs in traditional pens resulted in reduced physical signs of stress during loading and unloading and reduced total transport losses at the plant by 66%.

These fairly simple management changes to grow-finish facilities offer the opportunity to significantly lower losses during transportation.

Those losses are often labeled “transport losses,” when in fact losses are associated with the way the animal was handled prior to and during the loadout process, and the design of the loadout facilities.

This study was designed to assess the effects of finisher pig facility design on pig stress responses at the time of loading for market.

The “new” large pen design had 192 pigs/pen with internal swing gates that were used to manually pre-sort market weight pigs on the day before loading. The “traditional” pen design had 32 pigs/pen, and it was not feasible to pre-sort market weight pigs prior to loading.

Pigs in both types of pens were housed in naturally ventilated finisher facilities on opposite sides of the aisle in 1,200-head rooms. Pigs in both penning arrangements had 7.2 sq. ft./pig. They were marketed at 256 lb. in straight floor, aluminum, double-deck trailers stocked at 180 pigs/load or 4.4 sq. ft./pig. Transport time to the plant was about one hour.

Stress responses were recorded during loading at the farm and unloading at the plant. Pigs were monitored for open mouth breathing (OMB), skin discoloration (SD) and muscle tremors (MT).

At loading, the number of non-ambulatory pigs and the number of pigs not loaded were recorded. At the plant, dead and non-ambulatory pigs were recorded up to the weigh scale. Non-ambulatory pigs were defined as fatigued or injured. Total losses were defined as the sum of dead and non-ambulatory pigs at the plant.

“New” pigs had lower percentages of OMB, SD and MT during loading and unloading compared to “traditional” pigs (Table 1). “New” pigs had fewer dead pigs, fewer total non-ambulatory pigs and lower total losses at the plant compared to “traditional” pigs (Figure 1).

Researchers: Anna K. Johnson, Larry Sadler and Leah Gesing, Iowa State University; Michael Faga, Corky Feuerbach and Howard Hill, Iowa Select Farms; Ryan Bailey, JBS-Swift & Company; and Matt Ritter, Elanco Animal Health. For more information, contact Johnson by phone (515) 294-2098, fax (515) 294-4471 or e-mail johnsona@iastate.edu.