Producer question: What impact does hog handling have on my ultimate profits?

Slack’s response: We’ve all seen stern warnings printed on the side of a package: “Handle°with care.” This advice comes on televisions, computers, boxes of fruits and vegetables, glass fixtures or other breakables.

There’s a good reason for that warning. You’ve made an investment in the product. You’ve paid a price for these goods. And you want their full value. Pork is no
exception.

Producers of value-enhanced pork have an opportunity and responsibility to recognize the fragile nature of the product they produce. It’s not pigs, it’s pork. Proper pig handling is an important part of producing quality pork products.

The primary motives for proper pig handling are:

1. It’s a primary factor in a hog’s general well-being.

2. Studies show proper handling in the breeding herd can lead to better reproductive performance, resulting in one or even two more pigs per sow per year. Proper handling in nurseries and grow/finish units can improve an animal’s rate of gain.

3. Poor handling can adversely affect pork quality, leading to trim loss due to bruising and resulting in pale, soft and exudative pork.

Slaughter plants lose an estimated 40 cents to $1 per pig due to PSE.

PSE is caused by several factors including genetics, poor carcass chilling and rough handling before slaughter. Processors and consumers dislike the pale appearance, dry taste and shrinkage during cooking.

But long-term stress can cause another pork quality problem: dark, firm and dry pork. This occurs when pigs are stressed for long periods and are fatigued when slaughtered.

Pigs bruised during handling require special trimming at the packing plant to remove damaged meat. Estimates show bruising alone results in more than $48 million a year in trim loss.

You also have an opportunity to help maintain a sound industry image by implementing good production practices, such as proper pig handling, into their total management plan.

So it’s important to “handle with care,” gather information and heed the knowledge we have to eliminate poor handling practices.

Good handling principles are fairly rudimentary. Here are just a few:

  • Handle pigs in a slow, calm, quiet, patient manner. Allow adequate time for the task at hand.
  • When moving pigs, make sure the group size is compatible with the width of the alley, ramp and chute. Don’t crowd: This can cause bruising and stress, which affect meat quality.
  • Remove from pens and traffic areas all sharp objects that can cause bruising.
  • Whenever possible, use solid-sided alleys and chutes to prevent pigs from balking or stopping.
  • Temperature can affect stress. During extreme conditions, take measures to provide a suitable comfort zone for the pig. The pig’s environment also is a factor. Provide them with clean pens and adequate airflow.
  • Adequate flooring, spacing of cleats on loading ramps and uniform lighting are other important influences.
  • Minimize or eliminate the use of electric prods. Use a sorting board. Remember, you’re handling meat, not simply pigs.

Temple Grandin of Grandin Livestock Handling Systems in Fort Collins, Colo., is an internationally renowned expert on livestock handling. She offers a simple gauge for pig stress: “The squeal factor.”

“If you hear less squealing, there’s less stress,” she points out.

For the animal’s well-being and to safeguard your investment in the product, you must become knowledgeable in proper pig handling.

The Livestock Conservation Institute and the National Pork Producers Council have teamed up to develop quality educational materials for producer and employee training. The Pork Quality Assurance Program recognizes handling as one of many important management practices critical to modern pork production. A series of videotapes, training guides and pamphlets are available to you through either organization.

To optimize reproductive performance and rate of gain, to provide the highest quality pork possible, and in consideration of the animal’s well-being, proper pig handling is an essential part of management. It’s a tool that can give you a competitive edge over other producers.

Remember to picture the pig in a carefully packaged box and consider the message on the side of that package: “Handle with care.”

Glenn Slack is executive director of the Livestock Conservation Institute, Bowling Green, Ky.

For More Specifics...
To learn more about available training resources on proper pig handling, you can visit the Livestock Conservation Institute’s Internet site at www.lcionline.org or you can call LCI at (502) 782-9798. You also can visit the National Pork Producers Council’s Web site at www.nppc.org or call them at (515) 223-2600.

In addition to information on printed materials, you can find out how to get videotapes such as “Swine Handling and Transportation,” “Swine Handling for Producers” and “Proper Pig Handling for Markets and Packers.”