Producers must provide guidance through policies for their staff regarding which animals are considered to be fit for transport as well as the humane management of animals. Non-ambulatory pigs, such as the one shown here, are not candidates for transport and must be euthanized on the farm in a timely manner.
Producers must provide guidance through policies for their staff regarding which animals are considered to be fit for transport as well as the humane management of animals. Non-ambulatory pigs, such as the one shown here, are not candidates for transport and must be euthanized on the farm in a timely manner.

All animals experience some level of stress during transport. Those that are fit and healthy are able to withstand and recover with little to no detrimental effects; however, animals that are compromised before transport will have a much harder time coping. Transport often exacerbates fitness issues such as injury or illness, leading to the animal going down, becoming non-ambulatory or dying in transit.

In the past five years, the focus on livestock transport has increased significantly. Several animal-rights videos have been released depicting inhumane transport practices, and those groups have launched campaigns specifically targeting animal transport. Fitness to transport has been one of the key issues for these campaigns.

Pork producers also have increased focus, ensuring that animals are fit to transport. In 2002, the National Pork Board launched the highly successful Transport Quality Assurance training program, which includes a chapter on fitness to transport. Also that year, Alberta Pork in Canada developed the “Humane Handling of Swine” to provide producers with a tool to help them make the correct decision on which animals are fit to transport and which ones are not. The American Meat Institute has incorporated transport into its 2010 Recommended Animal Handling Guidelines & Audit, making it part of the plant audit process. Companies such as Smithfield Foods have set standards at their cull-buying stations on what is and is not acceptable.

These examples show how the industry has stepped up and shared the responsibility of ensuring that all transported animals are fit for the ride. The ultimate responsibility though falls back on the farm and the producer, as most fitness issues begin long before the truck arrives at the farm.

And the problem is?

Let’s begin with issues surrounding unfit animals. First and foremost, there is animal well-being — animals that are not fit to transport will experience unnecessary pain, suffering and elevated stress levels during transport. More often than not, animal injuries will be exacerbated during transport. Animals will most likely go down during transport and be at risk for being stepped on and trampled by other animals.

These animals require more intense handling during both loading and unloading. They often walk at a much slower pace than other animals, slowing the loading process. They may lie down in the alleyway, making it difficult to get other animals around them. Balking also will occur as they find it difficult to ascend the loading ramp. Upon arrival, they may have become non-ambulatory, requiring a sled or other moving aides to transfer them off the trailer. Depending on where the pig is located, unloading the other pigs may be delayed. In many plants today, policy states that non-ambulatory animals require euthanasia on the trailer, further delaying unloading and departure.

Every pig that arrives dead, requires euthanasia or has a condemned carcass is an economic loss. Depending on the contractual agreement, not only will the producer risk not being paid for the pig but he may face a fine for shipping a compromised animal. Increased labor costs for handling and disposing of the dead animal also can add to the economics.

Consumer confidence is tested every time an undercover video or photos depict poor animal-welfare practices. Each time a compromised animal is put on a trailer consumer confidence is jeopardized. The beef industry learned this lesson the hard way with the 2008 Hallmark/Westland incident in California. Loading and transporting compromised cattle led to the biggest meat recall in history and a public relations nightmare from which the beef sector is still recovering.


Determining fitness

There are three basic categories into which animals presented for transport fall:

1) Fit for transport — These are animals that can handle the rigors of transport, with all expectation to arrive at their destination sound and in good health.

2) Direct to slaughter/short haul with special conditions — Some conditions may deem an animal fit for direct transport for slaughter/short-haul trips or transported under special conditions. In Canada, the industry developed guidelines and defined a short haul as less than four hours. Regulations and industry also require that the animals be segregated from others, are provided bedding and loaded last on the trailer so they’re unloaded first and have the shortest possible distance to walk off the trailer.

3) Not fit for transport — The World Animal Health Organization has weighed in on these animals. Per its 2007 guidelines, animals that should not be transported include:

    • Animals that are sick, injured, weak, disabled or fatigued.

    • Animals that are unable to stand without aid.

    • Animals that are blind in both eyes.

    • Animals that cannot be moved without causing additional suffering.

    • Pregnant animals that are likely to give birth.

    • Female animals that have given birth within the previous 48 hours and are traveling with young.

    • Animals whose body condition would result in poor welfare because of the expected climatic conditions.

Animals that have been deemed unfit for transport need to be euthanized on the farm or should be treated until they are no longer in a compromised condition.

When assessing a questionable animal’s fitness to transport, there are several factors beyond the animal’s health that you must consider. Environmental factors such as weather, journey length, trailer condition, other animals, flooring and even driver skill all can affect the animal’s ability to withstand transport rigors.

Finally, the basic question that needs to be asked is not can the animal walk onto the trailer, but will it be able to walk off.

As a producer you must be diligent in ensuring that all animals you transport, whether market hogs or cull sows, are fit to withstand the journey. By developing internal policies that include the management of ill and injured animals, clear standards of what conditions are not acceptable for transport, along with an active euthanasia program, the industry and consumers can be assured that all animals are handled in the most humane manner possible. 

Compromising Categories

The American Meat Institute created the Recommended Animal Handling Guidelines & Audit in 2010. It defines four categories of compromised pigs, which are assessed upon arrival at the plant.

• Non-ambulatory: Pigs that refuse to get up, are unable to stand unaided and are unable to bear weight on two of their legs.

• Severe Injuries: Examples for pigs include broken legs, bleeding gashes or deep, visible cuts, prolapses (larger than a baseball or dark in color and necrotic) and body pressure sores.

• Fatigued Pigs: Pigs that have temporarily lost the ability or the desire to walk but have a reasonable expectation to recover full locomotion with some rest.

• Frostbite: Visible signs of frostbite include purple/dark pink patches on the skin, which is especially apparent on light-colored pigs.

Based on the auditing of five commercial trailers, scoring is as follows for the percentage of compromised animals on the trailer at arrival:

• Excellent — Less than 1 percent.

• Acceptable — 1 percent to 2.9 percent.

• Not Acceptable — 3 percent to 4 percent.

• Serious Problem — Greater than 4 percent.