You hit the snooze as the alarm flashes , yet you happily think ahead to tonight’s football playoff game for both of your high-school-aged sons. An hour later, you and the sons are in a hog barn waiting for the first of three truck drivers to back up to the loading chute.

Reviewing the long list of the day’s chores, you think to yourself, “I don’t really have the time to be loading these pigs at in the morning.” So, you go against your understanding of animal handling and the training you’ve had. Instead you pull out the electric goad, yell and move the hogs in large groups in an attempt to get this task finished.

It works, or so you think. Each trailer is loaded in less than 30 minutes, and you all get on your way.

However, later that day you find out that eight hogs died in transit due to complications associated with aggressive handling. It’s all because you chose to spend less than two hours loading the same animals that you spent the last six months housing and feeding.

I hope that you are familiar with the direct correlation between aggressive animal handling and poor pork quality. Still, it’s important to reiterate the negative repercussions that you and the industry incur when poor preparation and animal-handling decisions are made during the pre-loading, loading, transport and unloading phases.

Beyond actually losing hogs, improper handling and transport can cause meat-quality problems such as 1) bruising, 2) pale, soft and exudative meat or 3) meat that is dark firm and dry.

Understanding the relationship between handling and pork quality is critical. Estimates show that meat-quality defects associated with improper handling cost the U.S. pork industry more than $213 million annually, with bruising defects alone costing $8 million.

Whether you and your staff could use some training or just need a refresher course, here is some guidance from the National Pork Board’s Trucker Quality Assurance Task Force.

Hogs have a strong natural urge to escape.

  • Small visual gaps between pens, alleys, ramps, side gates, chutes or anywhere else may cause a hog to try to escape.
  • When hogs try to escape, they often injure themselves.
  • Hogs tend to follow each other.
  • Hogs like to follow each other and maintain visual or body contact.
  • In double runway chutes, hogs like to move up ramps side by side.
  • For market hogs, chutes should be 16 to 18 inches wide, which will keep the animals in single file.

Excited hogs are harder to move than calm hogs.

  • Improper use of electric goads can cause severe stress, heart attacks and death.
  • Alternative sorting aides include: Lightweight plastic sorting boards, plastic ribbons tied to sticks, nylon flags and plastic paddles.

Other items to note:

  • Move hogs in small groups — three to five animals — and move slowly. You should be able to lean over and touch the lead hog.
  • Hogs naturally follow each other, so set the first hog in the right direction and the others will follow.
  • It’s not necessary to prod every animal.
  • If the animals are moving through the chute by themselves, leave them alone.
  • •Hogs can often be moved by tapping the side of the chute.

So, don’t let a few hurried moments damage six months of hard work — handle those hogs properly.

Editor’s note: For more information on this topic or on TQA training, contact Stahl at:

P.O. Box 333, Sheldon, IA51201
; (712) 324-1445;, or NPB at (800) 456-PORK.

Keep Hogs at Ease

Hogs frighten easily during the loading and unloading processes.

  • Remember, hogs are unaware of your ultimate objective(s).
  • Watch for and remove: dangling chains, loose ramps and boards, slippery floors, extreme bright lights and loud noises.
  • Other conditions that frighten hogs are: shadows, water puddles, drain gates, shiny objects, flapping and moving objects, clothing hanging on fences, dogs or other animals, sunlight shining through cracks, sudden color changes.

The flight zone is the hog's personal space.

  • A hog’s flight zone is derived by its wildness or tameness.
  • A completely tame hog has no flight zone and people can easily touch it.
  • Often, when you enter a hog's flight zone, it will move away.
  • You should stand at the edge of this zone.

The point of balance is at the hog's shoulder:

  • All livestock species will move forward if the handler stands behind its point of balance; or will back up if the handler stands in front of it.
  • Handlers may mistakenly stand in front of the point of balance while making a hog move forward in the chute.
  • To drive a hog forward, stand at an angle behind the hog, not directly behind it.
  • Groups of hogs in a chute will often move forward when the handler walks past the point of balance in the opposite direction of the hog.