The one thing I appreciate about education is you can look back and realize that things could have been better if you only knew . . . That was my realization after I completed the TQA (Transport Quality Assurance) class, a class about best practices in moving hogs. I have moved my share of pigs in the past and to be honest at times, was quite the exasperating experience.
But it didn’t have to be.
TQA is part of the WeCare initiative. The WeCare program demonstrates that producers are accountable to established ethical principles and animal well-being practices. TQA was developed for all those people involved in animal movement such as transporters, farmers and handlers.
At some point, hogs need to be moved. They need to move from one barn to another, from one pen to another or from the barn to the truck that will taken them to a meat packer or to another farm. I took part in a class on TQA and I will share a couple of the key points of the class.
The TQA class was conducted in a classroom environment with a TQA advisor. The TQA advisor is required to be certified in order to teach the class. Upon entering the class, we received a 52-page Transport Quality Assurance manual. The majority of the participants were employees from local hog farms.
One important aspect in moving hogs is to know about the natural behavior of hogs. By understanding how a hog will react in certain situations allows handlers to work with the hogs instead of against them. A win-win for both the handler and the hog. The end result is a relatively stress-free movement. Just as humans, pigs have a fight or flight response. When a handler moves into a pig’s flight zone, the pig will move away. We discussed in depth the pig’s flight zone, point of balance and blind spot, as well as other issues affecting a hog’s movement. Just knowing where to be in relation to the pig is the key to successful and stress-free movement as well as animal well-being.
There are tools that handler’s use to assist in moving hogs in the right direction. Our farm prefers the shaker paddle. It is a large plastic paddle that makes noise when you shake it. Between knowing the pigs natural behaviors of “fight or flight” and use of the shaker paddle is usually enough to move the hogs.
Here is a video showing the use of shaker paddles. WATCH VIDEO
So why is it important to move pigs in a stress-free way?
Not only is it beneficial to the hog and to the handler but it will also affect the quality of the pork. The goal is to have RFN type of meat. RFN is a reddish pink and firm. It is most desirable in color, firmness and water-holding capacity. These are the characteristics that makes pork delicious. On the other side of the coin, when a hog is stressed as it is moved to the truck, the meat quality goes down. It will end up as PSE which is a pale pinkish gray, very soft and does not hold water. It is undesirable in appearance and shrinks. The meat ends up being very dry and not desirable by the consumer.
There were many other aspects of hog movement that we learned. At the end of the class we were required to take a 50 point test to be TQA certified.
Farmers want nothing more than for consumers to trust them in raising and/or growing their food. Consumers want more transparency on how their food is raised. Hog farmers have stepped up to that challenge by putting into place programs that educate those who care for hogs. And the details of these programs are made available to consumers through access to the Internet. This is just one step towards building and establishing trust with consumers.
As a hog farmer, we continually make improvements in how raise our hogs. And I am so appreciative of the programs made available to us through the Pork Board that makes us better farmers. These programs are possible through the pork checkoff.
Do you have any questions about how hog farmers move their hogs? Anyone have any experience in moving hogs and are willing to share their story?