Canadian producer's invention makes moving pigs a one-person job.

Mary Haugh was desperate. Her husband had just suffered two heart attacks in three days, and she had to find a way to move the three groups of 3,000 pigs they finished in their barns each year.

One day Haugh noticed that the pigs hesitated whenever they passed by the red chase boards used in the barns. She paused and wondered if a length of red fabric could serve as a long, flexible chase board to turn the pigs toward the exit gate. When she tested the idea, the pigs turned every time.

Two weeks after her first experiment, the first prototype was well underway. Her brother, Peter Jones, a mechanical engineering technologist and licensed millwright, designed the hardware so the fabric could retract.

Early designs used a broom handle to hold the far end of the fabric, but that feature was quickly revised because the broom handle kept dropping through the slats and into the manure pit.

After further trial and error, Haugh trademarked her invention as the “Longarm.” It's a portable, retractable gate made of fabric that enables a single handler to clear any number of hogs from a pen or truck quickly and easily, she says. The use of crowding boards, electric prods and moving sticks has been eliminated.

The moving red fabric wall creates an optical illusion that makes hogs want to move away from it, says Haugh. The Longarm is long enough to sweep up to a 50-linear foot swath of hogs at a time and only weighs approximately 30 lb.

The handle is made of stainless steel and attaches to existing gating by dropping a rod through the loops in the handle and the loopholes of a gate post.

The fabric is attached to a roller with a tension equivalent to 14 lb. of pressure. When finished, the Longarm rolls up neatly on its plastic spool, just like a window blind that doesn't have a stop factor.

The system was designed and tested to withstand the conditions of a hog barn. It can be cleaned with a 3,000 psi pressure washer with a wide angle tip used to clean equipment. It also meets Canadian Assurance Standards for biosecurity.

Handling Pigs with Care

The Longarm is simple to use — just unroll the red nylon sheeting to encircle the animals, sweeping them in the direction you want them to go, Haugh explains. It can be used wherever hogs need to be moved.

She says animal welfare groups in Canada are pressuring packing plants to treat animals as humanely as possible. One Maple Leaf Foods plant in Ontario, Canada, has already banned the use of electric prods when unloading pigs.

One packing plant decided Haugh's device had excellent potential when they visited their booth at a recent pork exposition. “The owner was convinced it would keep the animals calmer and save on the drip loss factor in the meat,” says Haugh. “We're working on a handle adapter so they'll be able to hook it on the side of the truck and just swoosh it around in the truck and bring the pigs forward.”

Time Saver

In an informal trial, five participants were challenged to clear the same number of hogs in five different pens, first using a chase board, then using a Longarm.

On average, use of the Longarm cut the time required to move the hogs by 70%. Haugh figures if someone earns $10/hour to sort and move pigs, and they could save two hours per week using the device, it would pay for itself in about one year.

The invention received the prestigious Premier's Regional Award for Agri-Food Excellence in recognition of innovation in Ontario's agricultural sector in 2007. It also won first place in the Industry Innovation Competition at the 2006 Ontario Pork Congress.

The Longarm is patented in Canada, the United States and Europe. It retails for US $950, plus shipping, and is currently available only through the Website (www.thelongarm.ca). Haugh says they are willing to work with distributors.