The developer of a tool that improves handling for baby pigs at processing and improves the health and well-being of farm workers has been awarded the 2014 F.X. Aherne Prize for Innovative Pork Production by the Banff Pork Seminar. Helmut Janz, a barn manager for Maple Leaf in Zhoda, Manitoba, received the award for his invention called the “piglet processing arm.”
As a hog barn manager, Helmut Janz recognized the need for a better way to process baby piglets when he saw employees suffer repetitive stress injuries as a result of performing piglet processing tasks. His piglet processing arm gently and safely holds the animal and allows it to be pivoted and rotated during the handling process. This makes the processing of piglets safer by eliminating the potential for repetitive stress and strain injuries on the employees.
The beauty of the design lies in its simplicity. It is constructed out of six simple, standardized, easy-to-source, low-cost parts. A universal joint similar to what is used on power takeoff shafts on tractors serves as the basis for the device. A holding plate for the piglets is attached to that and mounted on the processing cart. Various trial designs led to improvements in the final product. Foam inserts were added to cradle the piglet and a Velcro strap was added to easily hold the piglet in place.
The processing arm is designed to attach to a processing cart. It can be adjusted for height of employee and can be used easily by both right- and left-handed people.
The arm is now used by 40 people in 20 barns across the Maple Leaf system. This means the processing arm will be used on approximately 1.5 million piglets annually.
The award is named after the late Dr. Frank Aherne, a professor of swine nutrition and production at the University of Alberta in Edmonton and a major force for science-based progress in the western Canadian pork industry.