Less bedding benefits in-transit market pigs: study

by Meat&Poultry Staff
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DES MOINES, Iowa – Researchers at Texas Tech Univ. and Iowa State Univ. found the US pork industry can use less bedding year-round than it currently does while improving overall animal well-being, according to a new study funded by the Pork Checkoff. This could save the industry an estimated $10.1 million per year.

Various rates of bedding in semi-trailers at different times of year and in different locations throughout the Midwest were examined by John McGlone, a swine researcher at Texas Tech Univ. and principal researcher for the study, along with Anna Butters-Johnson an Iowa State Univ. researcher. This approach provided data representing cold, mild and hot weather.

When less bedding is used in transport trailers, groups of pigs headed to market can experience lower mortality rates in warm weather and overall improved well-being year-round research trials indicated. The current standard in the industry is to use four bales of bedding per semi-trailer, McGlone said.

"During the study, we found that the surface temperature of the pigs changed with the air temperature and that increased surface temperature actually caused a negative effect on the pigs' welfare," he added. "In cold weather, we found that there is no added effect to using more than six bales of bedding per trailer."

Freezing temperatures cause used, wet bedding on the trailer beds to freeze, which means pigs are more likely to slip on the ice, thereby creating more down pigs, McGlone explained. Whether in warm or mild weather, the researchers found no added effect in using more than three bales of bedding per trailer.

Researchers concluded if the industry changed to using only three bales per trailer, it would create a big savings with no change in welfare, McGlone said.

The US pork industry overall is doing a good job of transporting its roughly 2 million pigs per week in a safe and pig-friendly way, according to Sherrie Niekamp, Checkoff's director of swine welfare. Statistics back up this assessment, with more than 99.3 percent of pigs sent to market arriving in good condition, she added.

The small percentage of transport losses that occur still represents a total annual industry economic hit of $46 million, according to previous research done by the Univ. of Illinois. This includes losses from fatigued pigs (non-ambulatory), mortalities and other losses at plants.

The Transport Quality Assurance task force will take this new research into consideration when updating the program's transport recommendations, Niekamp said. The current TQATM Handbook is online at pork.org.

Producers should evaluate their current bedding practices and determine if they can implement the study's protocols, McGlone suggests.

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