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Staying safe in the swine barn

Staying safe in the swine barn

While some reminders may seem common-sensical, the little details are important in working safely with livestock

By Jackie Clark
Staff Writer

March 15 to 21 is agricultural safety week in Canada. Though we often focus on the hazards of large agricultural machinery, it’s important to acknowledge and respect the potential dangers involved when working with livestock. These animals are often strong and can be unpredictable.

Routine activities such as vaccinations can pose a risk if not managed properly. If used too much, “the end of a needle begins to develop a burr,” Dr. Sue Burlatschenko, an experienced swine veterinarian based in Tillsonburg, told

“Although you can’t see it visually, it creates a bigger wound when you’re vaccinating and it’s certainly not pleasant for the animal because it hurts more,” she said.

When vaccinations go less smoothly, you’re more likely to accidently injure yourself.

“If you’re not changing your needles regularly, they’re harder to insert into the animals so you might get more of a reaction. If they bounce when you’re trying to inject them, that’s where some of these needle stick (injurues) happen,” Burlatschenko explained.

Producers should change needles “regularly – every 10 animals. They’ll slide in easier; you’ll get the job done faster and probably reduce your chance of having an animal react and then causing you to injure yourself with a needle,” she said.

It’s also important to be aware of the products you’re injecting your livestock with, and any potential human health effects.

“Are there antibiotics or anti-inflammatories or steroids or prostaglandins? Reading the label and being aware of any warning or cautions is always a good idea,” Burlatschenko said.

Some products used in livestock can cause negative health outcomes if you accidentally inject yourself, and labels have recommendations on what to do in that situation, she explained.

“Prostaglandins are used in swine for inducing farrowing. Certainly, they shouldn’t be used by anyone who’s pregnant” in case of accidental adverse effects, she added.

It is a good idea to review products with your staff at least once a year to stay updated on any concerns or allergies among those individuals who will be handling the substances.

Another concern that Burlatschenko has heard more commonly in the past few years is slips and falls in the barn.

“I’ve been made aware of a couple of adverse events where people have fallen in barns, either getting caught up when they’re trying to hop a gate or being run over by a runaway sow and falling on the concrete and experiencing severe concussions,” she said.

Concussions can occur in many ways and in any setting, but it’s important to be mindful of the potential, and consult with a medical professional if any symptoms of a concussion appear.

 “Pigs can surprise you.” It’s important to “be aware of where they are. You should always be behind them,” Burlatschenko said. “They can turn on a dime.”

A simple way to reduce the risk of slips and falls in the barn is to “make sure your boots fit properly,” she said. “It’s really easy to trip or slip in poor-fitting footwear. It sounds really silly but I’m a lot more confident on my feet” when wearing appropriate footwear.

Producers might consider having a wider variety of boot sizes available for veterinarians, sales reps or other visitors to your barn.

Producers who are experienced in swine know that patience is key when trying to move animals.

“If you’re trying to move pigs or load pigs, getting agitated or really excited just transfers right into the animals themselves,” Burlatschenko said. “You get the job done just as fast being calm and walking with the animals as you do trying to hustle them along.”

Sometimes you’ll have the odd excitable pig but, in general, the herd will respond well to a serene atmosphere.

“Pigs are curious and very tactile … they like to investigate novel objects,” Burlatschenko explained. “Having pigs being used to people from a small size up gets them used to you being in the pen. … If they’re used to you walking the pens and being there, they’re a lot calmer.”

Sometimes pigs may bite out of curiosity, but not typically aggression. The exception might be breeding boars, Burlatschenko said.

“They can certainly slash or cause open wounds. It’s not common, but it (happens). And they’re nasty when you get these wounds because the variety of bacteria in the pig’s mouth. Again, it’s not common. It’s just being aware,” she explained.

Producers should familiarize themselves and their employees with restraint devices and pig boards to help direct movement and make management safer.

“They’re common sense things,” Burlatschenko said. But, when it comes to agricultural safety, “it’s the little things that count.”

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