Study to examine effects of transportation on pigs

Kansas State research will focus on muscle fatigue due to vibration in trailers.

May 15, 2018

3 Min Read
Study to examine effects of transportation on pigs
Kansas State University researchers are placing casings containing accelerometers (shown) to measure the vibration of trailers that transport farm animals. They hope to learn more about how to reduce stress on animals during transportation.Kansas State University

An estimated 120 million pigs are transported in the U.S. each year, which equates to about 750,000 loads of pigs moving along roads and highways. Previous research has identified fatigue — thought to be caused by the constant shaking the animals endure during transportation — as the cause of an estimated loss of 0.3% (360,000) pigs per year, according to Kansas State University associate professor of animal science John Gonzalez.

That’s equivalent to farmers losing about $17 per pig, marking a total loss of $61 million for the pork industry, according to an announcement from Kansas State.

Gonzalez and a team of Kansas State specialists aim to do something about it. They have received $125,000 from the Agriculture & Food Research Initiative (AFRI), which is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food & Agriculture, to gather data on how to make pigs more comfortable during transportation. The funding was awarded as part of AFRI’s interest in animal health and well-being.

The researchers plan to follow trucks around the Midwest — specifically Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma — to measure the vibration in the trailers and the resulting stress it may cause the animals.

“Our concern is welfare of the animals, but you also have the concern about the loss to the industry. You’re trying to help both sides: the animal, number one, and the industry, number two,” Gonzalez said.

“We are looking at different locations within the truck,” he explained. “Let’s say that we find out that the bottom level of the nose near the axle of the truck vibrates a lot more than the other compartments. So, you can actually tell producers, ‘Okay, these pigs that are at the far end of the hog house and will have to walk a long way and be more fatigued than the guys that are close to the door, maybe you don’t put them in the nose of the trailer.’”

The intent is to develop strategies for loading the pigs so those that might be more fatigued are not placed where the vibration is strongest.

“An analogy I usually give to people is that the effect of transporting pigs is much like when a homeowner uses a weed eater or a chainsaw or whatever you use that vibrates heavily, and then at the end, you have no strength in your hands,” Gonzalez said.

Sarah Schuetze, who is pursuing the doctoral degree in animal science, will collect data on 40 loads of pigs that will be transported between now and the end of the year. Schuetze has designed a system utilizing accelerometers that will be placed in the trucks to measure movement from side to side, forward to backward and up and down.

The measurements will help researchers understand differences, such as a bumpy ride along a county road compared to a ride along an interstate highway.

“This is so we can take those variables and see how it’s affecting our pigs,” Schuetze said. “Once we determine our vibration profile, we can use that information to address other transportation factors and create a better trip overall for the pigs.”

Schuetze said the amount of data she will collect is vast: “We are taking 100 data points a second over anywhere from a three- to four-hour load.”

Once all of that information is gathered, Schuetze will then design and build a live simulator that researchers can use to test the effects of transportation and vibration in a controlled university setting. Eventually, the work may also be used for other animal species.

In addition to Gonzalez and Schuetze, the project includes Kansas State University animal scientists Tim Rozell and Jason Woodworth, biological and agricultural engineers Dan Flippo and Ed Brokesh and kinesiology professor Tom Barstow.

Gonzalez said the group is still looking for trailer manufacturers or other cooperators willing to let the university test their trucks during this study. Those interested may contact Gonzalez at (785) 532-3448, or [email protected].

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