Researcher aims to help piglets survive transport

BANFF, Alta. — Thousands of piglets each year are weaned, loaded into trucks and taken to nursery facilities. A study led by Dr. Hauwa Bwala, a veterinarian at the University of Saskat-chewan’s Western College of Veterinary Medicine, seeks to identify risks that could result in piglet mortality.

Bwala provided explanations of the study via poster displays at the Banff Pork Seminar Jan. 8-10.

“We’re researching how our present transport regulations influence the overall welfare and well-being of piglets,” she said.

“We have a lot of literature on market weight pigs, but very little is known about how those regulations and durations actually affect the piglets, especially weaned piglets.”

Newly weaned piglets must handle the stress of weaning along with the stress of transport.

“We’re trying to explore all of that and see if there’s need for changes and improvements in certain areas of our present regulations,” said Bwala.

The federal government is in the process of reviewing Canadian transport regulations. There is industry speculation that it will recommend shorter maximum transport durations.

Bwala’s study, undertaken with colleagues from the Prairie Swine Centre and University of Guelph, is designed to provide verified data on how piglets fare under current rules.

The first phase of the study, which began in 2017, involved collection of three years of previous transport data from two integrated swine companies, two livestock transporters and one non-integrated swine company.

Data on type of vehicle, transport times, distance travelled, number of piglets aboard and various aspects of livestock management was compiled, said Bwala.

In the next phase, researchers will collect data in real time by visiting commercial barns, following trucks and collecting their own data, which will be compared with records provided in the first phase.

They will also follow the piglets for six weeks after transport and arrival in the nursery facility to see if or how trips affect growth, productivity and behaviour.

“So far the trends we’ve noticed, particularly with respect to mortality, is that given the number of piglets that are transported per load, per shipment … the range of mortality in percentage isn’t very high, either for short or long (trips),” Bwala said.

“I guess that’s a positive for industry.”

Collected data for the study included 6,692 transport records.

Bwala said conclusions will not be drawn until the data analysis is done. Results are expected to identify factors that pose the greatest risk for piglet mortality related to transport and improve their welfare while in transport.

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