Four-Year Study To Track Swine Mortality

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“We’re trying to address the issue of what happens on a truck and the components that create added stressors”

Considerable numbers of hogs die each year travelling from farm to market and its become a considerable concern for the industry. A study in 2004 estimated more than 16,000 pigs die in Canada every year before they reach the processing plant.

Summer months and parts of the country with high temperatures such as Ontario, had the most deaths, says Dr. Harold Gonyou of the Prairie Swine Centre in Saskatoon.

The existing research has prompted a new multi-provincial study to look at swine handling and transport. “We’re trying to address the issue of what happens on a truck and the components that create added stressors,” Gonyou told a recent seminar here. “Once we’ve identified them, we can start working on some of these problems.”

In addition to deaths, pigs in transport may also suffer injury such as scratches and bruises which reduces meat quality. Pigs under stress may also experience conditions which give rise to firm and dry meat, which reduces marketability, and value.

The research team includes researchers from universities across Canada as well as from Agriculture Canada and the Prairie Swine Centre. The swine handling and transport study is a four-year initiative which will be completed in three phases. The first phase will examined the transport of pigs under commercial conditions in order to identify factors contributing to deaths in transport. Presentations detailing these findings were given in Portage La Prairie, Edmonton and Saskatoon at the end of October.


Researchers decided to study the impact of different vehicle designs and compartments in the vehicle to identify various stressors and their effect on swine. Different parts of the truck are affected by a variety of ventilation patterns. Some of the trucks used have multiple levels and internal and external ramps.

The study was done in two Canadian seasons to account for temperature extremes. Testing was done in Quebec and in Western Canada. During the Quebec tests, animals were hauled for two hours and were held for one to two hours. Pigs were on Paylean, a lean meat promoter, but were not prodded with electric prods during loading or unloading. At the plant, the pigs were stunned with carbon dioxide.


Two kinds of trucks were used in the Quebec trials. In one case, pigs were transported in a pot belly truck designed specifically to transport hogs. The truck had two main ramps; one to the main deck and one to the pot-belly lower deck. All pigs on the centre deck did not have to use the ramps. This truck could carry 228 hogs.

The other truck was a double flat-bed truck without ramps which could hold 85 pigs. They were moved by hydraulic lift from the lower level to the upper level of the truck.

The Western trial involved hauling pigs from Elstow, Sask. to Brandon, Man. The trip took about eight hours, and pigs were held for one to two hours before entering the plant. Pigs were not on Paylean, and were not prodded with electrical prods at loading and unloading. The plant used electrical stunning.

The truck used in the Western trial was a dual-purpose pot belly designed to transport pigs or cattle. The truck, which carried 195 hogs, had three ramps which pigs could travel to be loaded into different compartments.

“You can see that there were substantial differences between the two. So we’re not trying to make a comparison between the Quebec and the Western study. What we’re trying to do is find some information that holds true in both,” said Gonyou.

Thirty six loads of hogs were transported in trials conducted in summer and winter.

The scientists measured pig behaviour during loading and unloading, travel and holding. They also measured the temperature and humidity in the vehicles as well as the core body temperature and heart rate of some of the animals. Tests for carcass quality and meat quality were conducted on some of the pigs after slaughter.

About the author


Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."



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