There are few pig production skills that are as fundamental as the ability to recognize a sick, injured or disadvantaged pig so that action can be taken to treat it, euthanize it or remove it from the group. Yet it’s clear from my experience visiting many farms that this skill is not universal and that differences in the ability of stockpersons to recognize abnormality can lead to variations in performance and pig welfare. So what are the key aspects of this skill and how can stockpersons be more effective at identifying pigs that need attention?
First, in order to recognize abnormality, one must fully understand the normal, healthy animal and how it looks, moves, behaves and sounds. Second, it is important to use a range of observational and behavioural skills, not just rely on a few major signs. All the senses including hearing, touch and smell should be used where appropriate. This will lead to quicker and more accurate identification of a problem. Third, stockpersons should follow a detailed routine that involves close inspection of each pig at least once a day.
In most cases this should involve entering the pen and interacting with pigs so that their response can be observed. This is especially important because it allows rapid identification of pigs that are slow to respond, lethargic or lame. Finally, stockpersons must be constantly vigilant for any signs of abnormality as they go about their daily work, not just during routine inspections.
OBSERVING APPEARANCE AND BEHAVIOUR
Any deviations from normal appearance and behaviour should be identified when carrying out a health check. Pigs should be alert and move freely around the pen, exhibit inquisitive behaviour, show no signs of lameness, move in a co-ordinated manner and stand with their head up.