A certain number of pigs can die or be injured during transport from farm to slaughter. The goal is to keep those numbers as low as possible. However, an increase in those rates during the 1990s, coupled with concerns about animal welfare has led to a University of Illinois research project to focus on and address the problem.

Led by Mike Ellis, professor of animal sciences and one of his graduate students, Matt Ritter, the two-year project is studying the transport of slaughter hogs under both 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, with the idea of determining what types of intervention might reduce incidence of death or injury.”

Both the death and injury rates are around 0.025 percent and stem from a number of conditions that interact to stress the pigs.

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

Studies on the amount of floor space inside the trucks that transport pigs have led to two contradictory findings. “With too little floor space per pig, animal losses are high. But, with too much floor space per pig, losses also are high,” says Ellis. “We’re setting up video monitoring equipment in the trucks to try to determine why this occurs.”

He speculates that too much space may actually lead to more jostling during travel, which leads to more stress on them. “We’re conducting experiments at different times of the year to monitor 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. Results will be available in about a year.