Pigs raised in large groups are much easier to handle than those raised in small groups, according to research conducted at the Prairie Swine Center in Saskatchewan, Canada.

Lead by Harol Gonyou, a research scientist in ethology, researchers at the center have studied behavior of pigs raised in large groups for more than seven years. The study involved several hundred pigs, with the designated "large" large groups made up of 240 pigs, with the "small" groups comprised of 16 to 20 pigs.

Among the goals, researchers want to learn more about the impact of group size on the ease and ability to load and unload hogs. They also looked at the effect of transportation on meat quality.

Gonyou points out that there were some differences in terms of how the animals adapted to being loaded for transport, indicating that both size groups responded to some amount of stress. "We would see similar kinds of physiological response among the animals, but the animals from the large groups loaded faster," he noted. Actually those pigs loaded about three times faster than pigs from small groups.

For both size groups, pigs were loaded in the increasingly accepted practice of moving four pigs at a time. Researchers measured how long it took the pigs to approach, enter the ramp and move onto the truck.

"We found that we used about the same amount of force to move pigs from either group," said Gonyou. He reports that there was some difference in terms of the animals' heat stress or response, such as open-mouth breathing and blotchy, red skin. "We saw less of that within the pigs that came from the large groups."

Gonyou observes that pigs raised in large groups are more willing to investigate and travel. They also interact with other pigs better than those raised in small groups.

Concerning meat quality differences between the two groups, Gonyou saw no significant differences. As for transport death loss differences between the pig groups, he said his study was not large enough to assess that.

Source: Farmscape, Sask Pork and Manitoba Pork Council