Handling tools to move non-ambulatory pigs that comply with the Common Swine Industry Audit
A pig can become non-ambulatory anytime on-farm due to injury, illness or fatigue (Benjamin, 2005). Hence, caretakers may be required to move non-ambulatory pigs into or out of pens, alleys and load out areas. The National Pork Board provides guidance about humane swine handling of healthy and non-ambulatory pigs through their Pork Quality Assurance Plus and Transport Quality Assurance programs (NPB, 2019, 2017). Building on these programs, the Common Swine Industry Audit has two critical failure criteria, one relates to euthanasia and one on willful acts of abuse. Specific to willful acts of abuse, one category specifically details non-ambulatory pig movement, “[d]ragging of conscious animals by any part of their body except in the rare case where a non-ambulatory animal must be moved for a life threatening situation. Non-ambulatory pigs may be moved by using a drag mat” (NPB, 2019). This factsheet provides information related to handling tools that are options to move a non-ambulatory pig on-farm.
- Provide modification costs for six handling tools.
- Rank six handling tools based on modification time, cost and quickness to move a non-ambulatory pig on-farm.
Handling tool durability, costs and modifications
Handling tools (wean-to-finish mat, sked, sled, modified deer sled, revised deer sled and ice fishing sled; Table 1) were selected based on versatility and movement capability. Versatility included the ability to move different species of animals with varying body size and weight, for example, deer, bear, and elk. Movement capability included movement over multiple terrains such as snow, stairs, gravel and light brush. Wean-to-finish mats are commonly used on-farm to provide comfortable resting areas for newly weaned pigs, around feeders to minimize waste and for lame pig convalescence. Haz-Mat/Hospital skeds are used for fire and rescue, hazmat and rescue situations. Skeds are compact, de-contaminable, durable and designed to dramatically increase efficiency in variable situations (e.g., Hot Zones or evacuating after a major incident). The Deer Sleigh’R Magnum Game Sleds are compact, lightweight and offer clean, simple animal movement of over multiple terrains. Otter Pro Sleds are most often used for ice fishing, has uniform thickness and are durable. All of these handling tools can be bought online or in stores and can be purchased and modified for $30 to $327. Handling tool modifications included incorporating restraint straps and sturdier caretaker handles. The time to modify handling tools is presented in Table 1. Table 2 provides the computational breakdown and overall costs associated with these modifications. For specific details on how to modify each handling tool, please refer to Akin, 2019.
Table 1. Handling tool modification* images – before (a) and after (b) from a study examining tools to move non-ambulatory grow-finish pigs.
|Deer sled||Modified deer sled||Revised deer sled||Mat||
Ice fishing sled
Approximate modification time (minutes)†
Table 2. Handling tool modification costs from a study evaluating tools to move non-ambulatory grow-finish pigs.
Handling tool rankings
Rankings are based on scientific enquiry and knowledge gained through on-farm testing over two-years. The research was conducted over three phases. Phase one enrolled six employees (five male, one female). Employees moved three pig cadavers (150 lbs., 260 lbs. and 135 lbs.) using a modified wean-to-finish mat (mat). Phase two enrolled four employees (all male). Employees moved 15 pig cadavers (average BW 196 lbs. [range 130 to 295 lbs.]) using a sked, deer sled, and modified deer sled (Table 1).
Phase One: No employee was able to move the mat from the home- to hospital pen (total distance 190 feet). Only one male employee was able to move all three-pig cadavers from the home pen into the beginning of the alley (distance 10 feet; mean time 37 seconds). Peak exertion force needed to move the mat plus pig cadavers was also very high (mean 592 N). The average change in employee heart rate and oxygen saturation did not go outside the normal baseline range (60 – 100 bpm; 95 – 100%) or post-exertion levels (120+ bpm; 95 – 100%). Employees ranked the mat as very difficult to move. Although very durable, the mat was not a suitable handling tool for moving pig cadavers because this type of mat is designed to provide a non-slip surface to reduce sliding and shifting.
Phase two: The modified deer sled moved the quickest from the home pen to hospital pen (63 seconds), followed by the sked (67 seconds) and deer sled (107 seconds). The deer sled had less peak force to move (192 N), followed by modified deer sled (199 N), and sked (242 N). Change in heart rate was greater with the sked than the modified deer sled: sked (62.7 ± 3.1 bpm), deer sled (60.3 ± 3.1 bpm) and modified deer sled (56.4 ± 3.1 bpm) but was not outside the normal baseline or post exertion levels. Employees ranked the deer sled (31 of 60 scores) and modified deer sled (30 of 60 scores) as very easy to move from the home pen to hospital pen, while the sked (35 of 60 scores) was ranked as easy. The sked was the most durable with a crease and a rip after the last pull, with the deer sled being the least durable handling tools with multiple creases, rips and holes. Overall, employees supported the sked and deer sled. Because the modified deer sled lacked restraints, the employees did not support the modified deer sled.
Phase three: Eighteen pigs (average BW of 220 lbs. [range 70 – 280 lbs.]) were given a lidocaine epidural block by Swine Medicine Education Center veterinarians at Iowa State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine to induce a non-ambulatory state. Once confirmed non-ambulatory, two production well-being team members moved pigs individually using a sked, revised deer sled and an ice fishing sled from the home (start) pen to the hospital (end) pen (distance 68 feet; Table 1). The ice fishing sled was quickest to move from the start pen to the end pen (124 seconds), although it moved with least resistance once the pig cadaver was loaded, loading it was a two person job, quite difficult and took time. Followed by sked (127 seconds) and revised deer sled (161 seconds) where loading could be accomplished a single person. Pigs were assessed for vocalization and struggling during movement. For pig vocalization a 0-2 score was used with (0) none, (1) intermittent grunts/calls and (2) continuous grunts/calls. For struggle score a 0-2 score was used with (0) none, (1) intermittent movement of legs and/or head and (2) continuous movement of legs and/or head. For the sked, the average vocalization and struggle score for moving pig onto handling tool, securing the pig and moving from the start pen to the end pen was 0. For the revised deer sled and ice fishing sled, the average vocalization and struggle score for moving pig onto handling tool, securing the pig and moving from the start pen to the end pen was 1. During movement, the pig’s temperature and respiration rate were not outside the normal baseline for any tool. Mean change in pig temperature was 1.7 ± 0.7 oC and respiration rate was 9.6 ± 2.1 breaths per minute. All handling tools were very durable. Therefore, the sked, revised deer sled and ice fishing sled are suitable handling tools.
Overall, the authors support the sked, deer sled, revised deer sled and ice fishing sled, and would not support the wean-to-finish mat and modified deer sled (Table 3).Table 3. Ranking of six handling tools* to move non-ambulatory grow-finish pigs on commercial farms.
*The handling tools were rated against each other within two categories; cadavers and non-ambulatory pigs. Each category was individually ranked. For cadavers, modification time and total duration: (1) quickest to (4) slowest. Total cost: (1) inexpensive to (4) expensive. Ranking was scored as: (1) excellent to (4) poor. For live non-ambulatory pigs, modification time and total duration: (1) quickest to (3) slowest. Total cost: (1) inexpensive to (3) expensive. Ranking was scored as: (1) excellent to (3) poor.†Handling tool total duration includes the following added together: 1) Duration it took to load pig from home pen floor onto the handling tool. 2) Duration to secure pig onto the handling tool. 3) Duration to move handling tool and pig from home pen into the alleyway, defined as the handling tool being entirely inside the alley and oriented towards the hospital pen. 4) Duration to move handling tool and cadaver along the alleyway and into the hospital pen, defined as handling tool being entirely inside the hospital pen.
Iowa Pork Producers Association provided financial support for this work. The authors would like to thank Iowa Select Farms for the use of the farm sites and the six employees for their assistance in data collection. Additionally, thank you to the Swine Medicine Education Center for their assistance during the live portion of the research study.
Akin, E. Providing humane on-farm handling tools to move non-ambulatory grow-finish pigs. Master’s thesis. 2019. Iowa State University, Ames, IA. https://lib.dr.iastate.edu/etd/16954/Benjamin, M. Pig Trucking & Handling – Stress and Fatigued Pig. Advances in Pork Production. 2003:16:57-66.NPB. National Pork Board. 2019. Pork Quality
Assurance Plus. Version 3 Handbook. https://d3fns0a45gcg1a.cloudfront.net/sites/all/files/documents/PQAPlus/V3.0/BinderMaterial/Tab%202/1%20PQAhandbook.pdf. (Accessed 1 January 2018.)NPB. National Pork Board. 2017. Transport Quality Assurance. Version 6 Handbook. https://d3fns0a45gcg1a.cloudfront.net/sites/all/files/documents/TQA/2017-Version6/TQA.V6_Handbook.pdf. (Accessed 14 September 2017.)NPB. National Pork Board. 2019. Common Swine Industry Audit. https://d3fns0a45gcg1a.cloudfront.net/sites/all/files/documents/CommonSwineIndustryAudit/2019-csia-instructions-standards-tool.pdf. (Accessed 19 February 2019.)
|Handling tool||Individual item cost||Total cost|
|Sked||HMH sked rescue system; $326.73||$326.73|
|Deer sled||Deer Sleigh’r Magnum Game Sled; $29.99 + Polypropylene rope (2.4 m); $0.90||$30.89|
|Modified deer sled||Deer Sleigh’r Magnum Game Sled; $29.99 + Polypropylene rope (2.4 m); $0.90||$30.89|
|Revised deer sled||Deer Sleigh’r Magnum Game Sled; $29.99 + Polypropylene rope (3.7 m); $1.62 + 5.08 cm side release buckle restraint polypropylene straps (1.5 m length); $7.95 (x2) + Braided Vinyl Tubing (1.6 cm width × 25.4 cm length); $0.89 (x3) + Grommets (3.8 cm); $13.99 + Grommet kit; $79.95||$144.12|
|Wean-to-finish mat||Wean-to-finish mat; $43.39 + Polypropylene rope (2.7 m); $1.62 + Flat washers; $0.13/washer (x2) + Hex nuts; $0.13/nut (x2) + Carriage bolts; $1.53 (x2) + PVC trim board; $20.90 + Exterior wood screws; $5.38||$74.87|
|Ice fishing sled||Otter Pro Sled Mini; $49.99 + Polypropylene rope (2.7 m); $1.62 + 5.08 cm side release buckle restraint polypropylene straps (1.5 m length); $7.95 (x2) + Braided Vinyl Tubing (1.6 cm width × 25.4 cm length); $0.89||$68.40|
|Modified deer sled||3||1||1||3|
|Live, non-ambulatory pigs|
|Revised deer sled||3||2||3||2|
|Ice fishing sled||2||1||1||3|