Providing optimum floor space per pig during transport and a longer journey time allow pigs to better handle transportation stress. Mike Ellis, University of Illinois professor of animal sciences, and graduate student Chad Pilcher led a study, which discovered that the lower the floor space allowance per pig during transportation, the higher the potential for losses.

However, there’s also evidence that providing too much floor space isn’t better. In transport, pigs are more likely to be thrown about if there’s too much open space.

One challenge of this type of research is controlling factors, such as animal handling, that contribute to losses, Ellis says. By working with commercial producers to perform on-farm research, Ellis’ team was able to control who worked with the pigs and how they were handled, while remaining in typical commercial conditions.

“We were able to perform controlled research where the pigs were handled the same so we could evaluate journey time and floor space,” Ellis says. “Journey time also affected the pig’s ability to handle loading and unloading stress.”

The study found that short journey times could actually lead to higher losses because pigs need a minimum amount of time to recover from the stress of loading at the farm.“On short journeys, you may superimpose the stress of unloading onto animals who haven’t yet recovered from the loading stress,” Ellis notes.

Bradley Wolter, chief operating officer of The Maschhoffs, Carlyle, Ill., said working with Ellis’ lab allowed the company to reduce pig losses by more than 1 percent.

“The 1 percent reduction represents pigs that are carrying the full value of current market prices and creates a significant impact to the company’s profitability,” according to Wolter.

 Results from the study have been incorporated into Standard Operating Procedures for The Maschhoffs. “These are implemented by producers within the barns prior to loading the truck and all the way through the process to the pig handler within lairage at our customers’ operations,” Wolter says.