Sorting Boards for Handler Safety?



It’s a 22 hour drive from Des Moines to SE12-53-14 W2 (a.k.a. home): a lot of beautiful country and super nice people between here and there. I met some new folks and got reacquaint with old friends at World Pork Expo. Thanks to all of you who stopped by our booth.


While at the show I had a discussion about using sort boards as a physical barrier to prevent pigs from running over or injuring handlers.


Clip 1: shows the kind of situation we’re talking about.

This handler did a good job of moving market hogs up to the load out. In the entire load, this was the only time a  hog challenged her like this. Many handlers deal with this situation on a regular basis so it’s important that you understand what causes it.


Without the board there to stop it, this hog would have run past, over, or through the handler and possibly caused her serious injuries.


Hog challenging handler



If we take the event of the hog jumping in isolation, then the board likely kept the handler safer than she would have been without the board there.


If you can’t watch the video on the site where you are reading this blog, go to   There you will also be able to scroll back or visit the archives to read earlier posts.


But we can’t isolate the hog’s attempt to get past the handler from the events that led up to it. If we truly want to improve handler safety we need to understand and deal with the causes of the hog’s behaviour.


Clip 2: We’ll start where the handler came up behind hogs in the alleyway.

–          She let one hog go past her

–          The target hog wanted to follow the first one but was blocked by the handler

–          Twice it tried to turn and move away from the handler and both times another hog got in its way


Release from pressure: Being able to get past the handler or being able to move away from the handler would have given the target hog release from her pressure and let it stay calm. It was blocked from doing either of those things.


When pigs can’t get release from our pressure they get scared. The target hog got scared.

The handler’s pressure increased as she continued advancing on the target hog. It jumped at the board to escape and get release from her pressure.


When the handler stepped back she gave the hog:

  • release from her pressure which helped it calm down and shift part of its attention away from her (notice that its head and ears stayed tuned towards the handler)
  • space to get turned and move away, which is what it did.


Lead up to hog challenging handler



If the handler had stepped back and given the hog release sooner, the hog wouldn’t have needed to jump in the first place.





Many packing plant handlers move thousands of hogs every day very effectively without carrying a board. They read and respond appropriately to the cues their animals give them.

Many handlers read and work their animals effectively while carrying boards.


Problems arise:

–          if we use boards in stead of reading and responding to what pigs are telling us

–          if we disregard the cues pigs give us about their mental and emotional state

–          if we forge ahead then try to rely on boards to protect us when we make pigs scared.


Whether we carry sort boards or not, we can improve both our own safety and pigs’ willingness to move for us if we:

–          understand that when pigs take a run at us it’s because they are scared

–          learn to recognize signs that pigs are getting scared

–          give pigs release from our pressure so they can stay calm



A few years ago a production system had me provide Low Stress Pig Handling workshops for their barn staff. They expected and saw improved animal handling and welfare, and improved worker efficiency. What they hadn’t expected to see was the dramatic drop in workplace injuries that occurred at each site once a critical portion of staff had completed the pig handling training.



That’s it for this week

Take care


Nancy Lidster

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3 Responses to “Sorting Boards for Handler Safety?”

  1. says:

    J’ai enfin trouvé un article intéréssant sur le thème de Sorting Boards for Handler Safety? Low Stress Pig Handling

  2. TRANSLATION AS PER GOOGLE: I finally found an interesting article on the topic of Sorting Boards for Handler Safety?Low Stress Pig Handling

    Merci. Beaucoup de gens utilisent des outils tels que les conseils pour corriger les problèmes qui se posent en raison de la façon dont ils utilisent leurs outils. Poule et l’œuf.

    Thank you. Many people use tools like boards to correct problems that arise because of the ways they use their tools. Chicken and egg.

  3. Nancy Lidster says:

    Thank you for commenting. Many hundreds of handlers have contributed to the content of these posts by allowing me to video them as they work: not only the ones you see in the videos posted here, but all the others who have helped us discover patterns and gain background to make sense of what’s happening between pigs and handlers.
    Take care