Scientists across Canada are collaborating to study the health and welfare of piglets in transit
By Jackie Clark
Swine researchers across Canada are working together to determine the effects of transportation on the health and welfare of weaned piglets.
Scientists from Ontario and Saskatchewan are collecting data from 21-day-old piglets being transported for commercial purposes. Most of the current research on transportation has been conducted on market hogs “which are older and have different requirements,” Dr. Terri O’Sullivan, a professor at the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College, told Farms.com.
“Our overall objective of this project is to help fill this gap with objective measurements of (piglet) health and welfare while they’re in transit,” she said.
Researchers conduct health checks, including body weight and assessment scores, and take two blood samples from a subset of piglets before transit. In the lab, scientists use these samples to assess physiological status and biochemical factors indicative of health and stress.
Researchers fit a smaller subset of piglets with heart monitors and temperature readers during transit. Once the piglets arrive at the nursery, the researchers repeat the health checks and blood tests, O’Sullivan explained.
The scientists also collect temperature, humidity, and vibration data from the trailers to see if this information can be correlated with the piglet data.
The researchers are comparing all these parameters over varied transport distances. “It’s a big project,” O’Sullivan said.
Future research will compare trailer types and test interventions, such as electrolytes, for the piglets during transit.
“We’re hoping to take what we feel is already optimal welfare and optimize it more. I think the swine industry is a strong leader in that sort of thinking,” O’Sullivan said.
“By the industry participating in this research in many ways, it shows that the industry is interested in continual improvement,” she added. “It’s just like any industry that constantly wants to improve but, when we have live bodies that we’re dealing with like the pigs, we want to be even more of an advocate for the animals.”
New livestock transport regulations will be enforced as of February 2020. Under the new rules, all pigs may be transported for a maximum of 28 hours without feed, water and rest, according to the amended Health of Animals Act. The previous limitation was 36 hours.
Animal transport rules in the European Union and Australia vary by the age of the pig, the act notes. These countries allow less travel time for piglets compared to adult pigs.
When asked about the possibility of similar legislation in Canada, O’Sullivan said “I don’t know what Canada will do.” But she hopes that government officials can use the research findings “to make informed changes” to the legislation if necessary.
Kelli Jo\iStock\Getty Images Plus photo