Today we made an unannounced visit to the VION pig slaughterhouse in Boxtel to see what measures have been taken to prevent heat stress as much as possible. Often, at VION in Boxtel, there are long waiting queues due to a lack of space in the lairage. We were pleasantly surprised that this time we did not see any stationary pig trucks along the public road. It was also relatively calm under the canopy; trucks could unload within a few minutes to half an hour. VION informed us that they were transporting fewer pigs today due to the heat (4 trucks per hour instead of 6-7). Additionally a maximum of only 6 trucks were allowed under the canopy instead of 9 (to improve ventilation).
Based on our advice, VION in Boxtel installed a misting system under their canopy. This made a world of difference. The combination of strong fans blowing the mist over and through the trucks resulted in a temperature 3-8 degrees cooler under the canopy compared to outside. The pigs on the right side of the canopy (where the misters were installed) visibly enjoyed the cool breeze.
To prevent visibility by people on the public road, one side of the canopy was closed. It was positive that this prevented sunrays from shining into the trucks, however closing down one side of the canopy also blocked the ventilation. We would have preferred to see a wind-permeable shade cloth in its place. Furthermore, we advised VION to install more misting systems so that the pigs on the left side of the canopy and those at the bottom of the trucks would also benefit more from the mist.
The misting system visibly reduced heat stress in the pigs (less panting, foaming at the mouth, and rapid breathing). However, we did observe some pigs with heat stress in a few arriving trucks, which is a clear indication that transportation at temperatures such as today (>30°C) can seriously affect the well-being of the pigs.
Research has shown that pigs can already experience heat stress above 22°C as they almost cannot sweat and carry a lot of body weight. While VION’s measures make a significant difference to the welfare of tens of thousands animals a day, and we appreciate their efforts, we still consider it irresponsible to transport pigs in temperatues above 25°C due to the associated risks.
Lastly, we inspected a small part of the lairage inside the slaughterhouse. The misting systems created small puddles of water on the ground where the pigs immediately rolled in to cool themselves (wallowing) – a sign that they were eager to cool down. The temperature in the waiting area was around 31 degrees with a relative humidity of 50%, which is high. We advised VION Boxtel to improve ventilation and consider implementing cooling measures. The density in the pens was slightly lower than usual due to the hot weather. Finally, we recommended that VION always has a mobile ladder available under the canopy for thorough inspections of pigs at the top levels of the trucks.
We would like to thank VION for their efforts and allowing us to observe the pigs on board of the trucks and inside their lairage.