It’s always been a challenge to transport pigs from farm to market with minimal stress. But the pay off can be big as it insures product quality and value, not to mention that it’s the responsible thing to do.

An increase in transport losses during the 1990s, coupled with animal welfare concerns has led to a University of Illinois research project to look for solutions.

Mike Ellis, animal science professor, and one of his graduate students, Matt Ritter, are deep into the two-year project. They are studying the transport of slaughter-weight pigs under commercial and experimental model conditions.

“We are working with commercial transporters and slaughter houses to monitor how pigs fare throughout the transportation process,” explains Ellis. “We’re looking at the incidence of losses and how and why they occur. At the same time, we are conducting in-house studies using experimental models that mimic transportation events to determine what steps might reduce the incidence of death or injury.”

Death and injury rates are both around 0.025 percent, and stem from several conditions that interact to stress the pigs, says Ellis.

“We’ve found that one contributing factor can be the intensity with which pigs are handled as they’re loaded onto trucks,” he notes. “We are trying to develop handling protocols that would reduce those problems. We’re also looking at the building design from which the pigs are moved to see if we can make the process easier and less stressful for the animals.”

So far, studies on the floor space in the trucks have led to two contradictory findings. “With too little floor space per pig, the losses are high, but with too much space per pig, losses also are also high,” says Ellis. “We’re setting up video-monitoring equipment in the trucks to try to determine why this occurs.”

Ellis speculates that too much space may lead to more jostling during travel, which leads to more stress on the animals. “We are conducting experiments at different times of the year to monitor the seasonal effects because pigs go to market year-round,” he adds.

Ellis and Ritter also are looking at truck trailer design to determine if different types of trailers might alleviate or increase the problem. Those results are about a year away.