Loading system effect on performance, handling and meat quality attributes of finisher pigs
Handling and transport losses can encompass several challenges experienced frequently by producers and packers alike. Marketing and transportation stress not only costs the industry due to mortalities, but has direct impact on the quality of pork delivered to the consumer (Barton-Gade, 1992; Geverink et al., 1996; Hambrecht, 2005).;The primary objective of the current study was to determine if loading system affects the incidence of losses during transportation or at the packing plant, welfare parameters at the time of marketing, and meat quality attributes. Two loading systems (prototype loading gantry [P] vs. traditional chute [T]) were compared on the first pigs marketed from a finishing facility (first pull [FP] pigs) and on the last pigs marketed from a finishing facility (closeout [CO] pigs).;Loading system influenced the total number of dead pigs (P < 0.06) and total losses (P < 0.03) in FP pigs. Results indicated that pigs loaded on the P chute during the FP have fewer total deads and total losses. Loading system also influenced welfare parameters ( P < 0.01) of both FP and CO pigs at the time of marketing. Pigs loaded on the P chute experienced significantly fewer electric prods, slips, falls, vocalizations, and pile ups, regardless of time of marketing.;Loading system did influence several meat quality attributes evaluated. In a comparison of FP pigs, loins from pigs loaded with the P loading system had higher (P < 0.05) initial and 24 h pH and tended to have higher (P = 0.08) JCS cut values, but lower ( P = 0.03) loin L* values. The higher JSC cut values and lower L* values indicate a darker, redder color meat. Among CO pigs, loins from pigs loaded with the P loading system had higher (P = 0.01) 24 h pH and JCS rib values, but lower (P = 0.06) L* values. Understanding key factors influencing losses during this time frame enables targeted interventions to improve both welfare and meat quality. This investigation has provided data to support changes in facility design that may ultimately lead to the improvement of performance, welfare, and pork quality.