"The average rate of loss of pigs during the trip to market
averages about 1 percent," said Mike Ellis, an associate
professor in the Department of Animal Sciences. "In some of our
research studies, we have observed losses as low as 0.3
Three years ago, Ellis and his graduate students
started looking at the problem of transport losses. Some pigs
die during the trip from the farm to the packing plant; others
are severely stressed.
"We're looking at a variety of factors, from animal handling
and management on the farm to the transportation process," said
Ellis. "More and more, though, we find our work focusing on the
A major challenge in that area is finding out exactly what is
happening to the pigs during the trip. To get that view,
researchers installed video cameras in trucks to tape the
The tapes have revealed the importance the number of pigs on
a particular truckload plays in losses.
"The more pigs you put on the truck and the less space they
have, the chances for losses increases, particularly in warm
weather," said Ellis. "It is a little different in cold weather
because when the animals are closer together they suffer less
stress from the cold."
That led the researchers to explore the question of optimal
floor space per pig.
"When pigs have a lot of space, they can get thrown around by
the stops and turns, and that can result in injuries," said
Ellis. "Too little space, though, can increase transport
Ellis and his team are still in the process of determining
the optimal space, fine-tuning the calculations for seasonal
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The tapes also revealed that, contrary to the prevalent thought,
almost all the pigs remained standing during the journey from the
farm to the packing plant -- sometimes for as long as three hours.
"If you think about it, a person traveling on the back of a truck
without any seats would also stand for all of the journey to brace
themselves against the truck movements, just trying to keep their
balance," said Ellis.
Additional research focuses on gaining a clearer understanding of
all factors during transport.
"We're putting sensors into commercial swine transport trailers
to look at the temperature, humidity, air movement and other
environmental factors during the trip," said Ellis. "We'll also look
at the conditions of the journey -- the speed, the stops and so
forth. We hope to build up a picture of the transportation
"This should help in the design of an optimal transport trailer
that would maintain the optimal environment under all conditions."
And they haven't stopped looking at on-farm techniques.
"We've found that if the pigs are fed too close to the time of
transport, you increase the chance for losses," said Ellis. "If you
keep the pigs off feed for 12 hours prior to transport, you tend to
have fewer losses. At this point, we're not sure why.
"We hope to begin producing management recommendations for
producers to follow before putting the pigs on the truck."
Funding for the research is provided by the National Pork Board,
Elanco Animal Health and Maschoff Inc., a family-owned production
system in southern Illinois.
of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental
Sciences news release]