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Action plans and training key to humane euthanasia of pigs

A critical part of humane animal care on pig farms is responsible and timely euthanasia.

by 5m Editor
30 March 2019, at 12:00am

Identifying individuals for the job, training them and having a plan to carry out the process can present challenges.

“It [euthanasia] is often misconstrued as something that shouldn’t be performed because it’s ending a life too early,” Caitlyn Mullins, DVM student at North Carolina State University, told Pig Health Today.

“But really it’s a compassionate way to end an animal’s life when the suffering would be too prolonged or recovery is not possible at all.”

Among the challenges facing the pork industry are “people just not having access to resources or feeling confident enough to perform euthanasia,” she noted.

To address these obstacles, Mullins worked with the National Pork Board (NPB) to help develop new training modules for hog-farm workers and guidance on how to develop a euthanasia action plan. The Common Swine Industry Audit (CSIA) provided the base criteria for these new resources.

Every farm needs a plan

Just by the nature of farm diversity, there will not be a one-size-fits-all euthanasia action plan. Each producer will need to identify what works best for his or her employees, animals and production system.

“But everyone is going to need a plan to reduce the subjectivity in the decision-making process,” Mullins said.

Templates to help producers develop their own euthanasia action plan are available on the NPB’s CSIA website. “This provides a great foundation for farms to use to start to address specific points that need to be looked at,” Mullins said.

Even then, a producer doesn’t have to go it alone. She advises that producers bring in their herd veterinarian to work on the euthanasia action plan and to help with employee training. “They have the training in health and welfare to be able to differentiate pigs that may need to be euthanized right away,” she noted. They’re also familiar with the farm’s resources and unique situations.

A different approach to training

Of course, when it comes to implementing the euthanasia action plan, part of its success depends on selecting the right individuals to serve as euthanasia technicians; the other part depends on effective training. NPB and Mullins worked on that aspect as well.

“A lot of on-farm training with new employees is pairing an experienced caretaker with an inexperienced caretaker and doing job shadowing,” Mullins said. “However, we’ve launched a new set of modules that are video-based, that cover everything from [euthanasia] techniques to confirming insensibility and death to addressing the timeliness factor.”

The unique aspect about these new modules is that they combine videos with an interactive interface between the learner and the program, Mullins noted. For example, there is a set of case studies for three different production areas: 1) breeding stock, 2) piglets and 3) wean-to-grow/finish pigs. Within each of those areas, the learner can actively make decisions about what to do with pigs in various scenarios.

Mullins offered an example of the decision-making process:

  1. Identify the pig as being abnormal
  2. Determine the extent of the injury and whether or not the pig can recover
  3. Make a decision about euthanasia; what techniques you can use based on the farm’s protocols
  4. Line up the equipment necessary and perform the euthanasia

All the while embracing that timeliness is critical “to preventing a pig from suffering unnecessarily,” she added.

These new modules “focus on providing the caretaker perspective, both visually and with the scripts, to really mimic daily duties and help provide that easy transition from the training to real-life duties,” Mullins said.

Pork producers and swine veterinarians can obtain a free USB-drive containing the 12 training modules, including how to create a euthanasia action plan, by calling the NPB Service Center at 800-456-7675 or ordering through the Pork Store online. All of the modules are presented in English and Spanish.