The amount of bedding used in trailers to haul pigs can have a significant impact on animal well-being, according to John McGlone, professor and swine welfare specialist, Texas Tech University. It is an area that has received increased attention recently and may offer a way to improve pig welfare during transport.
McGlone, principal researcher for the study, along with Anna Butters-Johnson, an Iowa State University researcher, looked at various rates of bedding in semi-trailers at different seasons throughout the year and in different locations throughout the Midwest. The study was funded by the National Pork Board’s pork checkoff.
For the study, McGlone and his associates collected data on 131,000 market-weight hogs transported on 772 trailer loads to determine how varying bedding levels affected the well-being of hogs. The research was conducted in cold, mild and hot weather. Time in transport varied between 16 and 459 minutes while wait time at the plant varied from 0 to 198 minutes.
During cold weather transport, the study suggests you will encounter problems if bedding freezes. “During very cold weather, (below 10 F) we saw an increase in mortalities on the second group of pigs transported on frozen bedding,” McGlone says. “The bedding turns into a big ice cube. It’s an important reason to avoid over-using bedding during the winter.”
During warm weather transport, (above 70 F) the study revealed more mortalities when bedding was increased beyond three bales. “During warm weather, bedding and air temperature are additive in terms of increasing the number of dead or non-ambulatory pigs,” according to McGlone. The study revealed a linear increase in DOA’s with each increase in number of bales used.
"We concluded that if the industry changed to using only three bales per trailer, it would create a big savings with no change in welfare," McGlone said. "So it's something the industry will need to consider carefully."
Karen Richter, a pork producer from Montgomery, Minn., and NPB member, said, "This bedding research offers us as an industry win-win situation because the results show that we can continue to improve animal well-being practices and actually save money at the same time."
According to Sherrie Niekamp, NPB director of swine welfare, the pork industry overall is doing a good job of transporting its roughly 2 million pigs per week in a safe and welfare-friendly way. Statistics back up this assessment, with more than 99.3 percent of pigs sent to market arriving in good condition.
By focusing on animal handling and transport, the U.S. pork industry has managed to reduce mortalities at packing plants by 42 percent over the past 10 years."It's always a good day when we can find innovative ways to continually improve how we care for pigs during all phases of production, including transportation," Niekamp said
In the meantime, McGlone says producers should evaluate their current bedding usage and determine if they can implement the study's protocols. "We've clearly shown there is no advantage to using more bedding than is necessary,” he said.