An ambitious Trucker Quality Assurance (TQA) program aims to drive pork quality, animal health and animal welfare. Introduction of the National Pork Board-sponsored program in Des Moines, IA, recently drew a full house of packers, producers and truckers.
Glee Goodner of Hormel Foods bluntly told the crowd: “We wouldn't all be here if truckers were handling animals completely to the satisfaction of our industry. We need to realize there are some methods of animal handling that are not ideal and need to improve.”
Figures from the National Pork Board's David Meisinger, TQA coordinator, reveal the extent of the problem. An unidentified East Coast packing plant conducted a survey of estimated income losses by type of producer for one month using three different transporters.
The average hauler cost small producers (10,000 hogs/year) $3,700; medium-sized producers (50,000 hogs/year) $19,000, and large producers (100,000 hogs/year) over $37,000 (Figure 1).
The average transporter had 4.2 crippled hogs/1,000 head shipped and 1.7 dead hogs/1,000 head shipped. The worst hauler averaged 8.7 crippled and 4.1 dead hogs/1,000 head hauled. The best hauler recorded 2.8 crippled hogs and 1.1 dead hogs/1,000 hogs, reports Meisinger, NPB assistant vice president of pork quality (Figure 2).
Meisinger took that average mortality rate of 1.7 deads/1,000 head (.17%), and 4.2 crippled hogs/1,000 head (.42%), and used those figures to extrapolate the loss to the industry.
“Based on an estimated 100 million hogs sold per year, this would correspond to 170,000 dead hogs/year and 420,000 crippled hogs/year in transit,” he explains. “At $100/hog in value, the deads in transit represent a loss of $17 million for the industry. The crippled hogs are of little value either. Put at a total loss, this would add another $42 million.” (Figure 3).
The plant survey suggests that 80% of all crippled hogs have damage to the ham, loin, shoulder and belly areas, with most of the damage concentrated in the ham area. Bruises alone contribute to more than $48 million in annual trim losses, according to industry estimates.
Time for TQA
Those kinds of losses, as well as growing animal welfare pressures from customers and animal rights activist groups, convinced Hormel to mandate that all hog haulers will be TQA-certified, says Goodner. Most of the 12 other major packers participating in TQA training sessions are expected to follow suit. Packers and trucking firms are currently providing two-hour, free training sessions for truckers to learn how to safely and effectively haul hogs.
After the training workshop, truckers who pass a multiple choice test are eligible to post a “Certified Quality Trucker” sticker in their trucks. Plans are underway to develop an identification card that can be scanned at the plant, identifying TQA-certified truckers, says Meisinger.
“Don't get me wrong. There are a lot of good truckers out there,” and not all of the problems are due to their actions, Goodner says.
But the TQA program fills a resource void, and it provides the materials to accomplish what needs to be done, he points out.
High on that TQA list is proper animal handling, because it potentially carries a big economic impact. Proper handling can reduce one of the industry's biggest pork quality problems, PSE (pale, soft, exudative) pork. Industry analysts say slaughter plants lose 40 cents to $1/pig from shrink loss due to PSE pork.
Like other packers, Hormel tracks the number of “slows” or dead hogs coming into their plants. Goodner recalls one outfit that had an unusually high number of deads on arrival at the plant. Further investigation revealed loading crews held contests to see how quickly they could load a truck.
In a second case, one company's trucker consistently had a much higher number of “slows” and dead hogs than the rest of the crew. The producer didn't believe this trucker had a handling problem because he was very welfare-conscious when handling and loading hogs at the farm. But it turned out he became very aggressive when unloading hogs at the plant, says Goodner.
Producers need to do their homework when contracting transportation to deliver their hogs to market, observes David “Corky” Feuerbach, director of biosecurity and procurement, Iowa Select Farms, Iowa Falls, IA.
Contact area farmers or your packer for recommendations on reputable drivers or carriers.
Provide specific directions for entering and leaving farm sites, says Feuerbach. Clear communication on driveway entrance, load shifting and backup procedures will prevent potential accidents. In addition, it is important that trucks have well-maintained equipment. Rollovers can be minimized through well-trained drivers and split-axle trailers.
Make sure drivers know what is expected of them. Drivers are responsible for counting the number of hogs loaded at Iowa Select, verified with the loaders in the buildings, he notes. That doesn't sound like a big deal, except that up to a half a percent of tattoos are known to be misread at the packing plant. “We want to make sure that the producer and the transporter agree on the count, and then it should agree at the plant, so those misread hogs can be found and accounted for,” says Feuerbach.
Iowa Select also has strict biosecurity rules for truckers entering production sites, another key part of the TQA effort. “Make sure you check that vehicle for visual cleanliness, and also the truck driver. Even if he has a real clean truck, but has dirty boots, I would not load that truck,” says Feuerbach. Site managers or producers should have the authority to reject trucks that are not properly cleaned. “Don't be shy about asking that trucker when and where that truck was washed and disinfected, and where he had been the day before,” he says.
Feuerbach declares: “It relates to the overall professionalism of that truck driver. If the truck, cab and driver are squeaky clean, you can probably be sure he will do a pretty good job of hauling and is pretty conscientious about how he is going to handle the hogs.” (See the sidebar on truck washing.)
The truck driver should carry a separate set of coveralls, clean boots, gloves and hats as needed for each shipment. Both the trucker and the hog loaders should use clean and disinfected hog handling and moving equipment. The trucker is not allowed in the barns, and the hog loaders should not enter the trailer.
The National Biosecurity Resource Center for Animal Health Emergencies provides a database of information on biosecurity that can be accessed at www.biosecuritycenter.org or by contacting the center's director, Sandy Amass, DVM, at Purdue University, (765) 494-8052, e-mail email@example.com.
Handle and move hogs with care. At Iowa Select, electric prods are only to be used as a last resort near the barn load-out door to get a stubborn hog to move, says Feuerbach. The same rule should apply to your trucker.
For the producer, leave a pen empty near the door to sort off any hogs that are having difficulty walking or are refusing to move forward. Sometimes a day or two of rest will prepare them to be shipped. Others may need to stay on the farm and be euthanized, he says.
The key to loading hogs is numbers, stresses Feuerbach. Use two to three people and work with small groups of hogs. “One worker takes three to five hogs from a pen to the truck driver, then goes back while a second worker brings the next group, so you are constantly having pigs in that alleyway.” It should take 30 minutes to fill a trailer with 180 head of market hogs. “If you load in 20 minutes, that's too fast. Push hogs too hard and you will pay for it at the packing plant,” he warns.
Keep hogs comfortable in all kinds of weather. Use the livestock weather index from the National Institute for Animal Agriculture (NIAA) as a guide. For a copy, contact NIAA by phone (270) 782-9798, fax (270) 782-0188, e-mail NIAA@animalagriculture.org or log onto www.animalagriculture.org.
Iowa Select uses bedding on every load of hogs shipped; one to two bales of wood shavings in summer, four to six bales in winter.
When Feuerbach started working at Iowa Select several years ago, “slows” or downers represented 1.2% of hogs shipped and dead hogs accounted for .8% of hogs marketed. Today, on average, .47% of market hogs are downers and .24% are dead hogs. He agrees genetics and health play a huge role, and weight is a part, but how pigs are handled at the site can weigh heavily into that outcome as well.
Calm is Key
Hog handling expert Temple Grandin of Colorado State University told the crowd that fear is the source of pig stresses and poor productivity. Therefore, keep pigs calm when handling and loading. The worst thing a producer or trucker can do is abuse or rush today's high-lean pigs. Creating fear is the fastest way to ruin meat quality, she says.
Prevent fear by contact with hogs. Walk through pens and around the hogs daily to teach them about flow. Research has shown by doing this, hogs will move and load much easier.
Also, try playing soothing music on the radio in the barns and give hogs something to chew on to keep them busy, offers Grandin.
When moving hogs, be aware they can be spooked by shadows, changes in flooring, sudden bright lights or a simple piece of paper on the floor, she points out. Floors should be grooved to prevent slippage. Only use sorting panels or beaded paddles.
Finishing barn alleys should be 36 in. wide. Narrow, 2-ft. alleys make hogs jam up and delay loading. Properly maintain loading ramps to provide sure footing for loading.
Short, 15-minute hauls are the worst for stress and PSE problems, says Grandin. She recommends resting hogs 1-2 hours at the plant before slaughter.
PETA Threatens Trucking
Livestock hauling has been added to the list of animal welfare concerns of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), says Goodner.
PETA recently filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), arguing that the agency has failed to comply with the Humane Slaughter Act by arbitrarily covering animal handling only at the slaughter plant, violating the transportation-to-slaughter mandate.
If USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service determines there are transportation problems at slaughter, it could ultimately lead to refusal of a packer's inspection service. This would result in the loss of its ability to slaughter and process hogs, he warns.
Truck Wash Enhances Biosecurity
Pork producers looking to upgrade biosecurity might want to consider building a truck wash, says a Northfield, MN producer.
Kent Holden believes the truck wash and transportation program that Holden Farms designed four years ago “eliminates a huge percentage of the animal disease risk,” and provides internal and external biosecurity.
“Biosecurity is the highest priority of health, production and financial concerns in the Holden Farms system,” he stresses.
Company trucks only haul hogs internally for transport of breeding stock and weaned pigs. For marketing cull breeding stock, company trucks transport hogs to a converted, 1,000-head finisher he calls a “transfer” building. These cull market animals are unloaded at one end and contract haulers load them out the other to take them to slaughter. No Holden Farms truckers are allowed inside the “transfer” barn.
Also, no company trucks haul hogs to market, he emphasizes. Market hogs are transported to slaughter by contract haulers who are required to have their own truck washing program.
After completing a haul, Holden company trucks move to the three-bay truck wash, isolated from other hog barns. Most of the bedding and debris from the trailer is removed and taken by spreader to a faraway field, says Holden. Trucks enter the wash through the south end of the building. A trap and septic tank inside the truck wash are used to handle any additional debris. Tractors and trailers are washed with fresh, hot water and cleaned and disinfected inside and out. They are left to dry overnight before exiting out the north end of the building. No clean vehicle drives back out the dirty, south end of the truck wash, Holden emphasizes. Trucks hauling cull animals on Friday are left to dry until Monday before they can travel to company breeding stock sites.
This year the truck wash will be expanded to incorporate a separate drying area for tractors and trailers, says Holden. A heated floor in the truck wash aids the drying process.
Truck drivers who drive for PIC are trained to realize they are protectors of animal health and represent the final step in preserving animal health, says Robert Thompson, DVM, PIC.
As such, they are responsible not only for proper handling and loading, but also for ensuring biosecurity and proper truck cleanliness.
PIC maintains its own internal transport centers where its trucks are washed. But the breeding stock company also uses many over-the-road truck washes, he says.
PIC truckers are encouraged to look for wash sites that are isolated and baited for rodents, says Thomp-son. Truck wash floors should be free of contamination.
Drying time is crucial but often underestimated, he believes. “The drying part of the process is just as critical as anything we do when you consider how long some of these organisms survive.”
Thompson spoke at the Trucker Quality Assurance program meeting held recently in Des Moines, IA, which was sponsored by the National Pork Board. He has written a swine health fact sheet on proper transportation cleaning and disinfecting. It covers pathogen survival and the effectiveness of cleaning compounds and their effectiveness against several swine pathogens.
The two-page fact sheet also covers proper design and operation of a truck wash. A seven-step procedure for truck washing is outlined. The fact sheet is available from the National Pork Board by calling (515) 223-2600 or from the American Association of Swine Veterinarians by calling (515) 465-5255.
Paul Armbrecht, DVM, Lake City, IA, audits truck washes used by his client's haulers. He uses an auditing form developed by PIC which includes information on building and site, washing procedures, available services and cost.
He reports there is a scarcity of public truck washes; most are privately owned by large producers or breeding stock companies.
Armbrecht lists the following key elements to a properly run truck wash:
Located in an isolated area away from any livestock;
Doesn't allow the trucker to get out of the cab in the wash area, preventing contamination;
Designated rodent control program;
Recycled water can be used for high-volume flush, followed by fresh water for hot water cleaning and disinfecting;
Separated bays to segregate the dirtiest trucks from those not needing much cleaning; and
Scraped and cleaned trucks are both included as part of the washing process. “The better truck washes will do a complete scrape and clean out of the trailer, while at others the trucker has to eliminate most of the debris himself before he gets the truck washed,” observes Armbrecht.
The National Pork Board has funded a study with Purdue University's biosecurity center to survey every truck wash in the United States, according to David Meisinger of the National Pork Board. The booklet will feature all of the details of truck wash location, water supply, washing supplies and other services offered.
A number of states have already been surveyed, he reports. These truck washes are listed on the center's Web site at www.biosecurity center.org.
— Joe Vansickle