Posts Tagged ‘signs of stressed pigs’

Truckers and stressed pigs: Part 2

Sunday, May 30th, 2010

This blog is

Last week we looked at the following letter in terms of effects on the customer, transporter and plant. This week we’ll consider possible reasons for the trucker’s actions.

…”I have one subcontractor driver I am having trouble getting to buy into the low stress idea. He still insists a good job is a fast job. That usually leads to something bad like broken legs or stressed pigs. Right now a stressed pig is not likely to make it to the kill floor … So that has led to stress between him and me and the customers. I know that you deal with the way we handle the pigs but this is certainly a stress as well. Maybe you could look at it in a different light that may help my perspective so I can deal with it differently.”


We can’t totally eliminate the problems but most stressed and injured pigs could be avoided with better animal handling methods. When handling practices cause stressed and injured pigs anywhere in the production chain, we need to ask some questions:

  1. Does the driver/handler know what happens when pigs get stressed?
  2. Does the driver/handler know how his/her actions can cause stressed pigs?
  3. Does the driver/handler know how to move pigs effectively without causing stress and injuries?



The TQA course devotes a fair bit of attention to fatigued / stressed hogs. I’ll provide additional references on request but here’s a thumbnail sketch.

Pigs get fatigued when they experience too much physical exertion or emotional stress for too long.

Pigs have a couple of disadvantages when it comes to dealing with physical exertion and emotional stress (fear):

–          their hearts are small relative to their body weight

–          they don’t sweat. They cool themselves by panting


When pigs are stressed they:

–          breathe more rapidly

–          get hotter

–          their hearts beat more quickly



–          open mouthed breathing

–          skin discoloration – they get red and blotchy looking

–          they may refuse to move

If you notice these signs and let pigs rest, cool down, and slow their breathing and heat rates, they will recover.

SIGNS OF ADVANCED STRESS: If you ignore these early signs of stress and continue to push them, pigs become more distressed and other changes can occur:

–          The blotchiness can intensify

–          their breathing become more rapid and frantic

–          instead of squealing or grunting they may make frantic, gasping, squawking noises

–          They may collapse

EVEN MORE STRESS: If you continue to stress them without relief there is a good chance they’ll die.

Pigs can go from normal to severely stressed in a matter of a couple of minutes.



Environmental conditions can contribute to stressed pigs. You can worsen the impact of high outside temperatures during transport by:

–          Not  opening  the trailer sides to maximize air flow

–          Not keeping the truck moving

–          Having too many pigs for the amount of space.


Many stress and injury problems occur when physical exertion is driven by fear. Pigs are scared and more prone to injury or fatigue any time we see them:

–          Scrambling to get away from us

–          Squealing

–          Piling on top of each other

–          Bunching up or refusing to move

–          Running circles around us

–          Getting wedged

–          Slipping/ sliding/ doing the splits/ having trouble getting traction to move normally

–          Churning and running into each other

All of these pig behaviours are caused by handlers’ actions. Besides being more prone to stress and injury, pigs acting like this are harder to move and control.     

Handlers’ actions that cause fear, stress, and injuries:

–          The more you use electric shocks the more downers you can expect

–          Ineffective use of tools

–          Too many people

–          Too much activity and movement

–          Too much pressure and no release

–          Working where pigs don’t want you

–          Hollering and other loud or continuous noise

–          Trying to rush pigs and force movement

–          Mixing pigs

–          Working with groups that are too large. We can often reduce the intensity and duration of the stress pigs experience by working with smaller groups. 

We need to: avoid activities that get pigs scared; notice when pigs start getting scared; and back off so they can stay calm, willing, and able to move for us.

Pigs can go from normal to severe stress in as little as a couple of minutes of aggressive handling. There are two parts to pigs getting stressed: the intensity of the stress and how long it lasts. Stressors add up. Stressed pigs on the truck often start with aggressive handling in the barn. 




From our example: “He still insists a good job is a fast job. That usually leads to something bad like broken legs or stressed pigs.”

I can’t speak for this driver. I can talk about what I see with other handlers.


Most of the handlers – and not just drivers – I see who focus on speed and invite injured / stressed pigs, don’t know how to move pigs any other way. Once they know a better way they use it.

It’s scary to face a problem we don’t know how to solve and it is pretty human to become defensive when someone criticizes us.

A common fear of handlers is that pigs will stop moving or circle back. If they don’t have an accurate picture of what stops pigs, how to get them started again, and how to guide pigs the right direction, many will instinctively try to get pigs scared enough to race past the trouble spots. They hope the pigs will get going so fast they won’t have time to stop. They succeed in getting the pigs scared but being scared is usually why pigs stop or circle in the first place. When we get scared (= frustrated) our instincts drive us to push harder unless we have knowledge or experience that helps us make better choices.

Handlers and truckers have to understand that most pig handling problems are caused by pigs being scared. This is one of the things we teach in our Low Stress  Pig Handling Courses for Truckers. We use video of loading and unloading pot trailers to show common problems and their causes, and methods drivers can use to move pigs up and down ramps, and in and out of the different compartments more easily and with less stress for them and the pigs. Call 306-276-5761 or email if you’d like to discuss it.


 That leads to the whole pride thing. “I’ve been doing this job for 3-9-15-22-73 years – and you’re thinking I don’t have it all figured out yet? Like Duh!” 

That will be Part 3 of this series next week.


That’s it for now


Take care.

Nancy Lidster