The effect of reduced loading density on pig welfare during long distance transport

Transport of animals is a stressful procedure often resulting in significant losses for the slaughter plant. This study aimed to determine whether or not pigs would benefit from a loading density (low density (LD)) (179 kg/m2) below the normal EU standard loading density (normal density (ND)) (235 kg/m2).

Eight similar, 550-km-long road journeys were followed in which fattening pigs were transported across Germany from farm to slaughter plant. During each journey all pigs were transported at LD (n=4) or ND (n=4).

Twelve female pigs per journey (total n=96) were randomly selected for measurement and monitoring of body temperature, behaviour, heart rate and blood parameters.

Throughout the journeys, LD pigs displayed more resting behaviour than ND pigs. Average body temperature was lower (P<0.05) for pigs transported at LD (38.0±0.07°C) than those transported at ND (38.3±0.06°C). During loading, heart rate increased in both ND and LD pigs and declined after the vehicle had been closed before departure but remained slightly elevated in ND pigs.

Pigs transported at ND displayed signs of stress (elevated HR and body temperatures) during the drivers’ break. Blood parameters were only slightly (not significant) affected by loading density.

Results indicate that pigs are more capable of adapting to long (550 km) transport conditions when loaded at a density below the present EU requirement. The study is from Wageningen UR Livestock Research, Lelystad, The Netherlands.

Gerritzen MA, Hindle VA, Steinkamp K, et al. Animal 2013 Sept 4 [Epub ahead of print].