By Carrie Webster

How pigs view and react to their environment makes animal handling an important aspect of raising pigs safely. The safety of the humans handling the animals is equally important, especially given that moving pigs, loading or unloading trailers and treating pigs are the leading causes of worker injuries on pig farms.

“Pig farmers need to recognize pigs’ behavior to ensure a safe working environment,” said Karen Hoare, director of producer learning and development for the Pork Checkoff. “A good handler relationship is based on respectful, safe, positive interaction developed by properly understanding the difference between a pig’s fear and curiosity.”

Pork Checkoff-funded research led to the development of the Safe Pig Handling resource that focuses on the safest ways to handle pigs.

“Worker safety is critical, which is why it’s the focus of one of the We CareSM principles,” Hoare said. “With the Worker Safety resource from the Pork Checkoff, producers can reduce both the incidence – and costs – associated with animal handling on the farm.”

Below are key tips for moving animals safely. For more about keeping your workers and pigs safe, go to pork.org/production/tools.

In 2019, the Safe Pig Handling resource will be expanded to include the topics of group housing, breeding, heat-checking, boar studs, semen collection and vaccinations.

  1. Understand pigs’ behavior – When a handler enters a pen, pigs will evaluate the situation and decide whether the worker poses a threat. Recognize pigs’ flight zone, which will vary from animal to animal and may change depending on the surroundings or the situation.
  2. Apply appropriate pressure – Pigs are pressured by any action that increases the level of attention they give to handlers. Approaching and entering a pig’s flight zone is pressure, as is the use of noise, visual stimuli or light physical touch. Once you initiate movement, release pressure. Smooth herd movement in the desired direction results in herd flow.
  3. Position your body – Once a pig begins to move, gauge how to position yourself to apply or release pressure effectively. With every pig, imagine a point-of-balance reference point at the pig’s shoulder.
  4. Use appropriate equipment – Use animal handling tools thoughtfully and minimally, and keep in mind that tools are not substitutes for smart positioning. Know the designed purpose of the tool in your hand and never use barn equipment as a substitute for the appropriate tool.
  5. Set up a route – When moving pigs, preparation is key. Pig instincts make them curious and wary. Allow pigs time to investigate obstacles to make moving less stressful. Anticipate distractions and remove obstacles.

“Be aware of the behavior of pigs and be conscientious about the body language messages you are sending,” Hoare said. “Take steps to reduce stress, frustration and the chance of injury to both pigs and people.”