Since last August, personnel at Murphy-Brown operations have learned much from implementing a detailed animal-care and handling plan.

 “Through on-farm audits and working with consultants, we found that additional procedures were needed to round out our system,” says Don Butler, Murphy-Brown’s government relations and public affairs director. Animal-care consultants Stan Curtis, University of Illinois, and Temple Grandin, Colorado State University, added the following procedures:

  • Evaluating gestating animals’ space.
  • Identifying, categorizing and treating body lesions.
  • Managing non-ambulatory animals.

Pregnant animals’ space allocation in standard stalls was generally but not always adequate, Butler says. “The audits showed that some sows needed more room to move forward and backward, lie down and relax their bodies.”

Steps adopted to address this involved:

  • Assigning sows and gilts to gestation stalls so that a large animal is next to a smaller one to meet their space needs.
  • Moving large-framed sows to roomier stalls.
  • Controlling sow growth and weight by ration composition and amount of feed.
  • Considering other options such as group pens.
  • Earlier culling of old, big sows.

Addressing lesions. The program now outlines explicit procedures to identify and treat various body lesions.

Skin problems can impact the animal’s comfort and performance, says Butler. They also can indicate when we need to make facility and/or husbandry changes.”

Employees check the skin of breeding sows and gilts three times during each reproductive cycle: (1) Gilts at breeding age, sows at weaning; (2) during the pregnancy check or 28 to 35 days after breeding; (3) just before entering the farrowing room.

Each animal is scrutinized for lesions, and scored

Score 1: No or minimal lesions requiring no treatment.

Score 2: Minor lesions or lesions that are healing (not open or wet), requiring no immediate medical attention, but call for continued monitoring.

Score 3: Lesions with skin breaks (open, wet, with no dry scab), requiring immediate medical attention.

A non-ambulatory animal is defined as one unable to stand and support its own weight or move without minimal assistance, which means the animal may require some help to climb a loading chute.

Murphy-Brown produced a Power-Point training program to educate workers on handling these animals. First, a worker encourages the animal to move by:

1. Invading its flight zone – the area within the animal’s peripheral vision which, when invaded, causes it to move away.

2. Clapping hands, hollering, shaking a rattle device and tapping the animal’s rump.

3. As a last resort, an electric prod may be applied to the rump in one-second shocks, three seconds apart. This may be done only three times.

Animals needing minimal assistance are to be loaded individually, loaded last, placed on the bottom trailer deck and left sitting or standing. Once at the plant, they are to be unloaded first, one at a time. Any animals on the truck that are unable to move on their own are to be helped. Downed animals deemed unloadable for a reason other than stress should be euthanized using a humane procedure that is spelled out in the company manual.

Contract growers also are being introduced to Murphy-Brown’s Animal Welfare Management System. Trained company personnel conduct regular animal-welfare audits; trained USDA auditors also will visit farms randomly. The goal is to obtain and maintain USDA’s processed-verified certification.

“We do everything within reason to keep our animals safe, comfortable and healthy,” says Butler. “Adhering to our AWMS System is a condition for employment. This also applies to our contract growers.” 

A Program Snapshot
Here’s a rundown of swine-management areas that Murphy-Brown’s Animal-Welfare System addresses.

  • Within buildings – air quality, temperature, space allowance, protection from elements, power failure, water and feed availability.
  • During transport – vehicle breakdown procedures, space, water availability, loading/unloading steps.
  • Animal – sow body condition, within farm animal movement procedures, human/animal interaction.
  • Herd Health - surgical procedures, biosecurity, animal health/disease/lesions, treatment options, identification of terminal status, euthanasia options.