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News Article

New data on condition of cull sows prior to transportation to the abattoir

Aarhus University researchers among the first to study condition of cull sows on the day of transportation to slaughter

About half of the Danish sows are culled and destined for slaughter each year; some 500,000 animals are sent on this final journey to the abattoir. To date, this group of animals has received almost no scientific attention. Researchers from Aarhus University recently carried out one of the first studies of the clinical condition of cull sows on the day of transportation to slaughter, and the findings have been published in the open access Translational Animal Science.

Previous international studies have focused on the condition of sows when they arrive at the abattoir. The results from these studies demonstrated that - compared to market weight pigs - culled sows constituted the majority of animals showing signs of fatigue, being seriously lame or of a low body condition score on arrival. So far, there is limited information on the clinical condition of culled sows prior to being transported to the abattoir.

According to study author, Karen Thodberg, from Aarhus University’s Department of Animal Science, “It seems paradoxical, as this knowledge is very relevant when it comes to assessing whether the animals are fit for transport.

The Aarhus University study comprised 12 herds, each of which were visited by trained technicians on the day of transportation. The technicians conducted thorough clinical examinations of all sows selected by the farmers for slaughter - a total of 522 animals. The clinical variables examined included body temperature, breathing frequency, body condition score, gait and various injuries.

Only four of the sows selected by the farmers, were considered unfit for transportation. They remained in the herd and were not included in the study. A significant number of the rest of the sows had various injuries or disabilities that might affect their welfare during transport.

Thodberg said that the various injuries or lesions indicate that the sows are more sensitive to the strain related to transportation than other types of pigs.

Less than 1 percent of the sows were lame, and many of the sows showed signs of various injuries such as wounds (approximately 55 percent), superficial skin lesions (approximately 30 percent) and udder lesions (approximately 25 percent), and 60 sows had at least one shoulder ulcer.

A significant number - almost 40 percent - of the sows came directly from the farrowing barn, and were lactating on the day of transportation to slaughter. The lactating sows displayed a higher frequency of deviations from normal with respect to clinical variables related to the udder, such as udder swellings and other signs of inflammation. In the paper, the researchers discuss whether lactating cull sows have a higher sensitivity to heat stress caused by their high metabolism.

This study provides an overall insight into the extent as well as type of injuries and abnormalities in cull sows; however, there is a need for further research into the behaviour and welfare of the sows in the last days of their lives.

“Our results demonstrate that there is a need for further studies focusing on different aspects of the condition of cull sows in the interval from the culling decision is made until the time of slaughter. These should also comprise the housing systems and group size that best ensure sow welfare in this period, as well as the conditions during transportation to the abattoir. The conditions for lactating cull sows should be given special attention”, said Thodberg.

The study was initiated at the request of the Ministry of Environment and Food of Denmark as part of a major examination of livestock fitness for transportation.

Transportation of cull sows-a descriptive study of the clinical condition of cull sows before transportation to slaughter. Fogsgaard KF, Herskin MS, Thodberg K. Translational Animal Science (2018) 2 (3):280–289. (open access)


Article details

  • Date
  • 13 September 2018
  • Source
  • Aarhus University
  • Subject(s)
  • Veterinary medicine