A Canadian researcher found that environment has a strong relationship to piglet mortality during transport, and climate-controlled trucks may be the optimal solution for piglet welfare
By Jackie Clark
New livestock transportation regulations are slated to come into effect in February 2020. However, there will be a transition period of two years to allow for education and awareness, reports now suggest, which allows time for the industry to learn more from ongoing research investigating the welfare of pigs in transit.
Dr. Yolande Seddon is one of the researchers working on swine transportation research, specifically digging into factors that impact piglet mortality during transport. She’s an assistant professor of swine behaviour and welfare with Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatchewan and the NSERC industrial research chair in swine welfare.
“There was interest for more transport research to be done because there are many questions that remain and, if you actually review the literature, we have the least amount of information on the piglets,” Seddon told Farms.com.
“The weaned piglets in particular are one group that we do know go long distances,” and have different body composition and physiological needs than pigs of other ages, so it is important to study how transport distance and time impacts them, Seddon explained.
In the past, research has been done using “very controlled trials where researchers have actually simulated transport conditions,” she added. It can be difficult to simulate real commercial environments.
Instead, Seddon conducted a retrospective analysis of actual data from commercial trucks and barns, including starting barn, destination barn, temperature, transport distance, pig weight, total number of animals, and type of truck. She investigated which factors had an impact on piglet mortality.
“The final model ended up showing that the distance interacted with temperature, and also the temperature interacting with the type of transport trucks were showing the strongest interactions to mortality,” she explained.
In other words, unfavourable conditions on the truck were a strong indicator of mortality, and were compounded by longer transport times.
This result raises the question “Do we put the concern on the distance, or is it the conditions in the truck period? Animals that are going on a shorter duration of trip in environmental conditions that might be less than favourable – there might be a lot of stress still being caused there, but they’re just not on the truck long enough to create the higher mortality,” Seddon said.
“I think that that’s an important thing to consider because I think what we want is obviously good, comfortable transport for all ages of pigs,” she added.
With those results in mind, instead of focusing solely on transport times, “an obvious step is to support the use of climatically controlled trucks,” Seddon said. Because unfavourable environment appears to have the greatest impact on piglet health and welfare, the industry could focus on improving that transport environment.
“Given the cost, if we don’t have enough of these trucks, you would prioritize their use on longer journeys,” Seddon added.
This solution may be costly, but it could be a more effective way to optimize pig health and welfare.
“I think the challenge is that just restricting transport times and offloading animals and giving them rest, it sounds good in theory and, no doubt, that certain weight ranges of animals would benefit from having a rest and consuming feed. But it becomes very unpractical for certain weight ranges of pigs, and also there’s a huge biosecurity risk,” Seddon explained.
The swine researchers in Canada are continuing to “slowly chip away at the various questions that are still remaining and we do need to address … I think in the next two to three years we’ll be able to provide a lot more knowledge because of the research we have coming down the pipeline,” she said.
Her future research will look at detailed measurements of piglet welfare over long journeys, including dehydration and fatigue. Other Canadian researchers are also investigating piglet behaviour on trucks, ability to drink water and potential to provide nutrition during transport, and physiological status of piglets.
National Pork Board photo