Helmut Janz knows from firsthand experience the physical toll that handling livestock can take.
The 20-year veteran of the hog industry has twice had surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome.
Yet it was the pains and strains experienced by others that Janz was looking to mitigate when he dreamed up a new device for handling piglets.
Janz originally built his “piglet processing arm” for employees in the Maple Leaf barn he manages near Zhoda, Man., so that they wouldn’t have to hold the animals.
He hoped this would reduce the long-term damage that stress can cause.
“People (in) that process, they get sore wrists. They have to go for surgery or they have to stop processing: one of the two,” said Janz.
“We want to make sure that they can continue doing their job long term.”
The simple device attaches to a processing cart. Individual piglets are strapped into a foam cradle attached to the arm of the device, which holds them in place. A universal joint allows the device to swivel, giving users simpler access to the animal’s head and tail.
The invention reduces the physical stress that barn workers experience when handling the small animals during a variety of activities from castrations to drenching.
For his efforts, Janz was awarded the F.X. Aherne Prize for Innovative Pork Production at the Banff Pork Seminar last week.
“I wish I would’ve figured it out years ago,” he said.
The device was first used a year ago, and Maple Leaf has now asked Janz to make more of them to be used in the company’s other barns.
He said some workers are initially skeptical of the device, which he said can take a week or two to get used to and cause an initial dip in productivity.
“If I would tell you to write with your left hand tomorrow, it would take you a while to get used to it,” he said.
“It’s just the change that’s the hardest part. Once people have accepted the change, then they don’t want to go back because it is easier.”