Flat decks, rather than ramps, reduce animal stress and cleaning is easier on drivers
It’s been known for years that pigs don’t like ramps. They don’t like walking up them and they don’t like walking down them.
After two years of research and development, a Manitoba trucking company may have a solution.
Steve’s Livestock Transport of Blumenort has helped design a livestock trailer that uses hydraulic lifts rather than ramps.
The company, which collaborated on the design with Wilson Trailer Co. of Sioux City, Iowa, unveiled a prototype in early June at the World Pork Expo in Des Moines, Iowa.
Steve’s Livestock president Steve Brandt said the concept was based on European designs but modified for North American climate and conditions.
“We had to take a snapshot of a couple different areas to come up with the right piece of equipment for the job,” said Brandt.
Livestock trailers with hydraulic lifts are common in Italy, he added.
“(But) they have different configurations and different laws for length of trailers and weight of equipment,” he said.
“We run trailers almost as twice as long as theirs.”
Brandt said the prototype has the same configuration as existing livestock trailers in North America but uses an aluminum hydraulic lift deck system to move animals into compartments.
“As livestock will no longer need to use a ramp when entering or exiting a trailer, it will reduce stress on the animals and contribute to improved meat quality,” he said.
Jennifer Brown, a research scientist who has studied livestock transport at the Prairie Swine Centre in Saskatoon, said ramps perplex young pigs.
“They’re only six months old when they’re going to market. They’ve been raised on flat, usually slatted concrete floors (and) they’re not used to going up ramps,” she said.
“With different parts of the trailer, sometimes the ramps are fairly steep because they’re internal trailer ramps.”
Prairie Swine Centre research has shown that ramp-related stress compromises meat quality. Pigs that have to navigate ramps have poorer meat than pigs transported on flat decks.
Conventional livestock trailers are also stressful for drivers. The headroom in many compartments is only 1.3 metres, and there are plenty of tight and awkward spaces.
“They (drivers) have to be pretty bent over to get around in a lot of these compartments,” Brown said.
“They need to clean it out. And to (get) the last animals out, they’re walking around down in there.”
Brandt said a trailer with hydraulic lift decks provides more space and headroom. He hopes the new trailers will help retain older drivers and attract new employees.
“The existing equipment is hard on drivers. They’re not driver-friendly at all,” he said.
“With our aging driver population, it was something we needed to address.”
Steve’s Livestock said in a news release that the hydraulic lift functions like an elevator. Hydraulics and stainless steel cables raise two full-length decks into their locked positions and produce up to three floors of space.
Brandt couldn’t provide a price tag for a hydraulic lift trailer be-cause it is still a prototype.
Steve’s Livestock will use the prototype model for a couple of months and then modify it, as needed, before Wilson begins to manufacture the new model.
If all goes according to plan, Brandt hopes to have the new trailers on the road by next summer.