Effect of ramp configuration on easiness of handling, heart rate and behavior of near-market weight pigs at unloading.

Goumon, S., Faucitano, L., Bergeron, R., Crowe, T.G., Connor, M.L., and Gonyou, H.W. (2013). "Effect of ramp configuration on easiness of handling, heart rate and behavior of near-market weight pigs at unloading.", Journal of Animal Science, 91(8), pp. 3889-3898. doi : 10.2527/jas.2012-6083  Access to full text


Three experiments, each using 280 pigs, were conducted in a simulated compartment to test the effect of angle of entrance (AOE) to the ramp (90°, 60°, 30° or 0°), ramp slope (0°, 16°, 21° or 26°), and an initial 20 cm step associated with 16° or 21° ramp slopes on the ease of handling, heart rate (HR) and behavior of near market-weight pigs during unloading. Heart rate (pigs and handler), unloading time, handler's interventions and pigs' reaction were monitored. The results of the first experiment show that using a 90° AOE had detrimental effects on ease of handling (P < 0.05), pig's HR (P < 0.05) and behavior (P < 0.05). The 0° and 30° AOE appeared to improve the ease of unloading, while the 60° AOE had an intermediate effect. The 30° AOE appeared to be preferable, because pigs moved at this angle balked less frequently (P < 0.01) and required less manipulation (P < 0.05) than pigs moved with a 0° AOE. The results of the second experiment show that the use of a flat ramp led to the easiest unloading as demonstrated by the lower number of balks (P < 0.001) when pigs were moved to the ramp and the less frequent use of paddle (P = 0.001) or voice (P < 0.001) on the ramp, compared to the other treatments. However, the flat ramp did not differ from the 21° ramp in many of the variables reflecting ease of handling, which may be explained by the difference in configuration between the ramps. The results also show that the use of the steepest ramp slope had the most detrimental effect on pig's balking and backing up behavior (P < 0.001) and handling (touches, slaps and pushes) (P < 0.05, for all) when moved to the ramp, and on unloading time (P < 0.01). No differences in pig HR (P < 0.05) and ease of handling on the ramp (P < 0.05) were found between a 26° and a 16° ramp slope, suggesting that the length of the ramp may be one of the factors which make unloading more difficult. The results of the last experiment show that a step associated with a ramp made unloading physically more demanding at both 16° and 21° for the handler (P < 0.001) and pigs on the ramp (P < 0.05) as demonstrated by their greater HR. The greater difficulty of handling (P < 0.01), pig's reluctance to move (P < 0.05) and the increase in HR (P < 0.05) in pigs moved toward the 16° ramp with a step suggests that pigs perceived this ramp as more psychologically challenging. Making a few changes in terms of the design of the ramp could improve the efficiency of handling and reduce stress in pigs.

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