Swine management: Long pig transports to be studied more closely

Date of publication : 4/29/2008
Source : Aarhus University/Faculty of Agricultural Sciences
When pigs are transported over long distances, we do not know very much about their behaviour and welfare. Scientists from the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences at the University of Aarhus intend to rectify that.

When pigs are transported over very long distances we do not know very much about how they fare and how they spend their time while in the truck. We also do not know if it is better for them to spend the obligatory breaks in the truck, as compared to being unloaded at a staging point like the present legislation requires.

Behavioural and veterinary scientists from the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences, University of Aarhus, intend to rectify that. They will do this in several ways, among others using video monitoring of the pigs in the transport vehicle. The scientists can then see if the pigs spend their time sleeping, fighting, playing or something completely different.

Monitoring the pigs’ travel life is not just to satisfy the scientists’ curiosity. It can also contribute new knowledge that can be used to improve Danish and European legislation.

"There are many rules regarding transport of pigs and other animals, but the rules are not always based on concrete knowledge of the animals’ behaviour and welfare in the transport situation. This kind of knowledge practically doesn’t exist when it comes to very long pig transports",  says senior scientist Lise Dybkjær from the Department of Animal Health, Welfare and Nutrition at the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences, University of Aarhus.

She heads a project that has set out to investigate how the pigs fare during the long transports.

"We will follow the pigs by the hour to get an impression of whether the maximum 24-hour drive and the minimum 24-hour rest is the best model for the animals. The acquired knowledge can be incorporated into the preparation of common EU rules to ensure animal welfare on long-distance journeys",  says Lise Dybkjær.

As the EU rules are now, the pigs may be transported for up to 24 hours at a time. After that they must be unloaded from the vehicle at a staging point and have at least a 24-hour rest there. According to the EU rules this can be repeated ad infinitum. But who says that the pigs feel the need to get out after 24 hours? Maybe it should be already after 12 hours – or maybe it is better to let them sleep in peace (if that is what they do) and not wake them up until after 36 hours. Do the pigs even feel the need to ”stretch their legs”? Maybe they would prefer to stay in the familiar environment of the vehicle instead of being moved to an unknown environment at the staging point.

"We will investigate if the stays at the rest stations during the breaks are better for the pigs in terms of welfare than letting them rest in the truck. We will do that by registering the animals’ behaviour and by taking physiological measurements. We will also thoroughly document the animals’ conditions during the transports",  Lise Dybkjær explains and continues:

"There will still be many unanswered questions when the project is over but it will give us a good basis from which to continue".

The project, which is the first of its kind in Denmark, is a collaboration between the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences, the Danish Meat Association, and the SPF transport company, and is financed by the Pig Levy Fund.
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