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Brian Cotton, Swine Specialist, Brandon
As hog barns become larger, more employees are hired to work in the industry. Employees often specialize by working in the breeding unit, farrowing unit or a grower-finishing barn.
Employers need to evaluate the animal handling ability of potential employees to see what training may be needed by these employees to increase their effectiveness when working with pigs. Pig handling can affect reproductive performance.
A study of boars and gilts, being handled with a positive (stroking the pig) or aversive (use of an electric prod) treatment, three times a week, from 11 to 22 weeks of age was conducted by Hemsworth et al (1986). Gilts were mated on the second estrus post 22 weeks of age, and evaluated for their fertility, 40-60 days post mating. Boars were evaluated for the days to mating response and ability to breed a sexually receptive female.
The most impressive finding was the reproductive performance of the gilts and boars. The gilts in the pleasant handling group maintained an 87% pregnancy rate compared to a 33% pregnancy rate of gilts in the unpleasantly handled treatment and the boars in the pleasant group were able to breed sooner than the boars in the unpleasant group.
In feeder barns, pigs are being left for longer periods of time in the same pen, which may result in increase fear response to handlers and a reluctance to leave the pen at shipping time.
The number of animals often overwhelms inexperienced employees in a large facility. They need to understand the pig's flight zone and behaviour. Shadows, bright lights, strange sounds, etc. can effect the movement of pigs. Use your best stockpeople to train new employees and establish the correct attitude of pig welfare and production, especially the proper handling techniques in a variety of situations.
If part of your hiring process included observing applicants move a group of pigs down an alleyway, it may be a good indication of their ability to work with pigs and their suitability for the job and/or need for further training.