Winter transportation of market hogs

When the temperature drops, prepare for cool/cold weather transportation of market hogs.

As the seasons change, market hog handling practices during loading and transport must also change. Estimates show that meat quality defects can cost the U.S. pork industry millions of dollars per year. Additionally, transport losses of market hogs create challenges for the United States food chain.

Research findings conclude that the rate of non-ambulatory pigs numerically increases and is actually the highest during the late fall and winter months.

The reasons the rate of non-ambulatory pigs peak in the late fall and early winter are unknown. However, Dr. Matt Ritter (2007) offers some potential explanations.

Variable temperature stress. There can be large fluctuations in temperature during these periods. If barn temperatures are maintained at 60 - 65° and the outside temperature is 0°, the pigs are now dealing with a 65° difference in temperature which may cause them to shiver. Shivering breaks down muscle stores to generate body heat which may lead to fatigue during the unloading process.

Heavier pigs. Growth rates and feed intakes of pigs are typically lower in the summer due to heat compared to cooler temperatures in the late fall and early winter and/or the addition to the new corn crop to the ration.

Increased number of pigs transported. Historical data shows that more pigs are harvested in the fall creating logistical challenges for the marketing process.

Health status. Once again the large day-to-day variation in temperature may cause some respiratory challenges.

Hot weather is gone. Many times personnel involved in the transportation process take more precautions to minimize pigs from becoming heat stressed. In this instance, personnel may forget about re-evaluating their transportation management practices when temperatures become “more comfortable”.

Recommendations for cool/cold weather transportation of market hogs:

  • Insert grain slats in farm trucks.
  • Close nose vents in trailers.
  • Use panels to protect pigs from crosswinds.
  • Block or plug a portion of the ventilation holes/slots in trailers.
  • Keep pigs dry.
  • Load fewer pigs per load.
  • Provide extra bedding (wood shavings, wheat straw, corn stover, etc.).
  • Use covered loading chutes that minimize the amount of cold air blowing on pigs.
  • Move pigs in small groups (four to six pigs at a time).
  • Use an absorbent material in the load out area to prevent pigs from slipping and injuring themselves.
  • Walk pens to identify sick/injured pigs before loading.

Learn more on pages 8 and 9 of this issue of Pork Quarterly

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