Training in Low Stress Animal Handling enables handlers to move pigs in a safe, effective manner that meets the safety and welfare needs of the animals they are moving by using video as both a teaching and learning tool. By understanding that pigs respond to handlers’ action in predictable manners, producers are trained to identify and recognize those patterns, so they can choose and change their own actions and thereby change how pigs respond for them
The concept of release pressure refers to shrinking your “bubble” (distance, body language and noise level towards the animal) so the animals release their attention away from you, giving the animals more time and space, whereas applying pressure means the opposite.
Philip Hofer from Scotford Colony recently underwent this Low Stress Animal Handling Training through the services at Alberta Pork, and we asked him for his thoughts on the program:
What did you learn by observing you and your staff during pig movements before applying the principles of this training?
The most important lesson we got from recording and reviewing the videos was seeing the habits that we had formed by doing the same routine over and over. We had never tried anything different. We were really following our habits without focusing on the situation or the animals.
Okay, that brings us to our next question: What are the main changes you made after receiving this training?
What the training called itself: Low Stress. We changed little things, like minimizing vocalizations right down to almost zero. Instead of stepping into the animals to try to move them faster, stepping out of it lowered the animals’ stress and actually moved them along faster. Small things that after the training seemed like something we should know, but were not part of our habits. The biggest things we changed were decreasing vocalization, and noise, the amount of pressure applied, and the times to release pressure from the pigs.
What about the use of rattle paddles or prods?
No rattles. This is from our experience up to now: when a paddle was broken we threw it out and would get one replaced. Now, we take the rattles right out of the paddles. Zero noise and vocalization is probably our best friend when moving animals. We are not using prods anymore either.
Do you find this way of handling to be better for the animals and for the staff? Why?
Yes. I have had comments from multiple members of the staff on tasks we have been doing while handling the animals that involved a lot of stress. After we had adapted the way we handled the animals, staff made comments like “We must be doing something wrong. We are not worked up, we’re not tired. We’re relaxed. We’re not mad at each other or at the animals.” The environment that this creates is low stress for handlers and for animals, for everybody. And we’ve even knocked time off our tasks when doing this
Was the investment of time or money into the training worth the outcome?
Yes. It was a day in a classroom and a day in the barn for training. But the time we’ve saved in the five months afterward—there’s no measuring it. And we no longer worry about replacing our rattles or prods. So, the little that you do invest in time and maybe a video recording device, you’re saving just by reviewing and improving the things you’re doing.
As a hog manager, does this training make a difference in the way you work?
Yes. Knowing what I know, I would have wanted to do this when I first started, or shortly after I started managing. The training program really helped me and taught me how to get the message across and how to prove a point to staff members themselves, and get them on board. The program taught me how to come across to my staff.
Would you recommend this training to other producers?
I would strongly recommend this training to other producers. Producers might think it’s coming across the wrong way. Like, we’re saying they don’t know how to handle their animals. I would absolutely not say that. What we saw out of this program is that we do understand our jobs, it’s just our habits prevented us from adapting it. So, once we saw what we were doing wrong, it was, for myself, obvious—the body language and the way the animals reacted to things—but we had not allowed ourselves to change our habits or adapt accordingly. So yes, I would strongly recommend this. Not for the fact that people don’t know how to handle animals, but because we can use the knowledge that we already have and use it to our fullest extent. It is about the handlers getting to use their own knowledge and adapt their habits.