Loading and unloading of weaned and finishing pigs and long distance transport of weaned pigs: Impact on welfare
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Pre-transport and transport stress are multifactorial stressors that can negatively impact pig welfare. The use of non-slip surfaces during loading and unloading of weaned, and finishing pigs plays an important role in animal welfare and economics of the pork industry. Furthermore, transportation of weaning pigs can negatively impact performance, physiology, and behavior. Currently, the guidelines available only suggest the use of ramps below 20 degrees to load and unload pigs. Three ramp angles (0, 10 or, 20 degrees), 5 bedding materials (no bedding, sand, feed, wood shavings or wheat straw hay), 2 moistures (dry or wet bedding; > 50% moisture) over 2 seasons (> 23.9oC summer, < 23.9oC winter) were assessed for slips/falls/vocalizations (N = 6,000 weaned pig observations; N= 2,400 finishing observations). “Score” was calculated by the sum of slips, falls, and vocalizations. In weaning pigs, with the exception of using feed as a bedding, all beddings provided some protection against elevated slips, falls, and vocalizations (P < 0.01). Providing bedding reduced (P < 0.05) scores regardless of whether the bedding was dry or wet. Scores increased as the slope increased (P < 0.01). Provision of bedding, other than feed, at slopes greater than zero, decreased slips, falls and vocalizations. In finishing pigs, heart rate and the total time it took to load and unload the ramp increased as the slope of the ramp increased (P < 0.05). The use of bedding during summer or winter played a role in the total time it took to load and unload the ramp (P < 0.05). Bedding, bedding moisture, season, and slope significantly interacted to impact the total time to load and unload in finishing pigs (P < 0.05). Several factors should be considered in combination to identify the appropriate bedding for the specific occasion in both weaned and finishing pigs. Piglets were transported for 32 h and measures of performance, physiology, and behavior were taken to assess piglet welfare. Treatment groups included a control (Con), weaned pigs provided with feed and water (Wean+), weaned pigs not provided with feed and water (Wean-), weaned and transported pigs provided with feed and water (Trans+), and weaned and transported pigs not provided with feed and water (Trans-). Loss in percent body weight was different among treatments (P < 0.01). Control pigs had a 6.5 ± 0.45% increase in body weight by 32 h of transport (P < 0.05). Weaning caused a 5.9 ± 0.45% loss in body weight. Weaning without feed and water caused a 7.8 ± 0.45% loss in body weight. Transport with feed and water caused a 6.5 ± 0.45% loss in body weight. Not providing any feed and water during transport caused a 9.1 ± 0.46 % loss in body weight. A treatment by time interaction for neutrophil to lymphocyte (N:L) ratio and blood glucose levels was observed (P < 0.01). There was a sex by treatment interaction for creatine kinase (CK) (P < 0.01). Total plasma protien (TP) levels were found to be different between the different treatment groups (P < 0.01). Significant changes in behavior were observed during and after transportation. Overall, transportation had a negative effect on weight loss, especially if not provided with feed and water. Further investigation on provision of feed and/or water during long distance transort suggested animals transported without water lost significant more weight than those transported with water. Further, N:L ratio was significantly higher in males transported without water (P < 0.05). Overall, transportation had a negative effect on performance and N:L ratio, especially when water was not provided.