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Transportation of Hogs

by 5m Editor
22 January 2009, at 12:00am

Transportation of pigs is receiving greater attention from producers, hauliers and packers, says Dr Allen Harper, swine extension animal scientist at VA Tech. Driver fatigue was found to be a leading cause of live-haul accidents. Advice is given on the proper procedure in case of an accident involving live pigs.

Transporting livestock by truck and trailer has been a cornerstone of the meat industry for many years. Fed hogs and cattle must be transferred from the point of finishing to packing plants. Transport of feeders from one site to the finishing location and transport of replacement breeder stock is equally important. In recent years transport of hogs and cattle has received an increasing amount of attention by those directly involved in production, and the general public as well.

A recent news article entitled 'No Cruelty Charges in Pig Wreck' (R.E. Spears, Suffolk [Virginia] News Herald, 24 November 2008) illustrates this increased interest in livestock transport by producer and public. The article reviewed activity associated with the accidental overturning of a tractor-trailer load of market hogs in route to Smithfield Foods processing facilities in Smithfield, Virginia.

To summarize the article in outline form:

  • The driver ran off the right side of the road to avoid a car that was preparing to turn left.
  • The truck struck a power pole and overturned.
  • The driver was charged with reckless driving; he was unhurt but approximately 65 of the 190 hog load were killed or had to be euthanased.
  • A response team was brought in including a veterinarian and livestock handlers to deal with the situation.
  • A representative of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) came to the scene and took video.
  • The video was submitted to the Suffolk Commonwealth's Attorney office with a request to seek animal cruelty charges against the hog owners, handlers and transporter.
  • The Commonwealth's Attorney determined that the images recorded on the video did not warrant pursuit of animal cruelty charges.

What is apparent from this recent incident is that livestock transport, like other aspects of meat animal production, is under the public microscope. Secondly, producers, haulers and packers are making good progress in recognizing the need to put greater emphasis on transport; and, are acknowledging that animal handling and safety is just as important during transport as it is at the farm and packing plant.

Being prepared to respond promptly and safely to live haul truck accidents is very important. Indeed Murphy-Brown LLC and other a major hog production integrators have conducted extensive training and developed emergency response teams to deal with such situations. But of course the best case practice is to prevent live haul accidents altogether. A report by Jennifer Woods of J. Woods Livestock Services, Blackie, Alberta (Alberta Farm Animal Care, 2007) documents the circumstances, conditions and potential causes of live haul accidents. The study was based on a review of 415 commercial livestock truck accidents in the US and Canada between 1994 and 2007.

The study and subsequent report is extensive and detailed. Such factors as species and production or age classification of the livestock, month of accident occurrence, states and provinces of occurrence, time of day, position of the wrecked trailer, reported cause of the accident, and severity of death loss were investigated. Relevant components of the study are summarized in the following table.

Characteristics of 415 commercial livestock truck accidents in the US and Canada, 1994–2007
(adapted from J. Woods, 2007)
Characteristic Study Finding
Vehicles involved Only a single vehicle (the hauler) was involved in 80% of cases
Timing 59% of the accidents occurred between midnight and 09:00 a.m.
Fault Driver error was blamed for 85% of the accidents
Vehicle position In 83% of the accidents, the vehicle rolled over
Rollover direction Of rollover accidents, 84% rolled to the right
Month frequency More accidents occurred in October, followed by November, August and April
Weather influence Only 1% of reports indicated weather as the cause of the accident
Species frequency 56% of accidents involved cattle, 27% swine and 11% poultry
Cattle types For cattle accidents, 23% involved finished cattle and 70% involved feeders and calves.
Swine types For swine accidents, 80% involved market hogs, 16% feeders or weanling pigs, and 3% sows.

One important conclusion of the study was that driver fatigue is a leading cause of live haul accidents. This conclusion was based on combined findings that most accidents were single vehicle, occurred between midnight and 9:00 a.m. and involved roll-over along the right side of the roadway. Clearly prevention of live haul accidents begins with the driver and the assurance that he or she is physically and mentally prepared for the task at hand. Other factors such as driver training and education, truck and trailer maintenance, and routine safety inspections are important as well.

Response Plan Should be in Place

Even when all reasonable actions are taken to prevent live haul accidents, some will still occur. In these situations, it is important for the producer and hauler to have a response plan in place. When an accident occurs and assuming the driver is uninjured and able to so, the first call made should be to 911 to report the location and nature of the accident. Emergency personnel should be made aware of any human injuries involved, the fact that livestock are involved and the implications to public safety along the roadway. Emergency warning devices should be set out at the scene and appropriate company or farm personnel should then be called. In as much as possible loose animals should be herded away from traffic. In addition many commercial haulers are now including a reporting kit in the truck that includes a camera for recording photographs of road patterns and conditions, skid marks and other characteristics of the of the accident scene.

When first responders arrive they should be given details of the accident including any human injuries, the status of loose animals and any known hazards. Ideally the driver would be able to report that his company has an emergency response plan that would involve corral and loading equipment and trailers that will be brought to the scene along with experienced animal handling and health experts.

January 2009