Piglet processing involves routine procedures that industry outsiders often criticize as causing pain, stress and reduced animal well-being. However, there is little scientific information on the magnitude of this stress or if alternatives to the standard procedures improve piglet well-being.

A recent research study has determined that processing techniques that can be carried out quickly and with minimal tissue damage are likely to be the least stressful for piglets. The research team included Jeremy Marchant-Ford and colleagues at USDA’s Agricultural Research Service Livestock Behavior Research Unit and PurdueUniversity scientists.

The researchers compared alternative techniques such as teeth grinding, hot-iron tail-docking, ear tagging and oral dosing of iron to conventional methods of teeth clipping, cold tail-docking, ear notching and iron injections. In most cases, the alternative techniques were found to be more stressful as indicated by higher cortisol levels, higher and more frequent animal vocalizations as well as poorer animal growth rates.

The one exception was that ear tagging did appear to improve piglet well-being over ear notching. Ear tagging resulted in less tissue damage and was done more quickly.

In the end, the researchers found that time management and expediency are what matter most in terms of improving well-being during piglet processing. Ensuring that workers are well trained to carry out piglet processing procedures correctly is a key component to minimizing the time required to perform processing procedures and, consequently, to improving piglet well-being.