But such alternatives are more likely to be of interest to processors than to pig farmers or hauliers, because of the initially higher costs associated, said Teagasc researchers, who collaborated with Danish, Spanish and Dutch counterparts in the Transus EU project to develop new pig-handling systems.
They looked at use of containers designed to suit the expected pig-group sizes, suitable for handling at the farm and at the slaughterhouse, and for cleaning and disinfection.
The container was to be developed for ten 100kg pigs, of a size and weight that could be handled by a standard forklift truck, and loaded onto a trailer from the side.
Where larger groups of pigs are to be transported, a number of these containers can be stacked onto the trailer.
The research stemmed from the concern about the effects of transport and associated handling on the welfare of animals. Consumers are demanding better treatment of animals in the whole production chain, including transport.
The distance pigs are being transported by road, from a farm to the slaughterhouse, is expanding, because of long-distance and international trading, improved infrastructure, and increased demand for live animals for fattening and slaughtering.
Within the EU, free movement of animals from one member state to another, and more uniformity in slaughter weight and quality requirements, has resulted in more long-distance travel to slaughter. EU regulations to protect animals during transport are laid down.
Containerised transportation methods offer advantages, such as pigs entering the transport container sufficiently early so they can get used to the new environment, thus reducing stress levels.
Hygiene will improve, because standardisation of empty containers makes it possible to develop dedicated cleaning tools and equipment. However, researchers found that loading and unloading pigs took longer than with conventional methods.
Refinements to the design, and in methods used to load/unload containers, are needed.