New knowledge on the condition of cull sows prior to transportation to the abattoir

September 13, 2018

About half of the Danish sows are culled and destined for slaughter each year - approx. 500,000 animals - and are sent on their last journey to the abattoir. So far, this group of animals has received almost no scientific attention. Recently, researchers from Aarhus University carried out one of the first studies of the clinical condition of cull sows on the day of transportation to slaughter, and the results are now published in a scientific journal.

Previous international studies have focused on the condition of sows when they arrive at the abattoir. The results from these studies demonstrated that - compared to market weight pigs - culled sows constituted the majority of animals showing signs of fatigue, being seriously lame or of a low body condition score at arrival. So far, however, knowledge on the clinical condition of culled sows prior to being transported to the abattoir is very limited.

- It seems paradoxical, as this knowledge is very relevant when it comes to assessing whether the animals are fit for transport, says Karen Thodberg, Department of Animal Science at Aarhus University, and one of the authors of the recently published study.

Hundreds of cull sows are examined

The Aarhus University study comprised 12 herds, each of which were visited by trained technicians on the day of transportation. The technicians conducted thorough clinical examinations of all sows selected by the farmers for slaughter - a total of 522 animals. The clinical variables examined included e.g. body temperature, breathing frequency, body condition score, gait and various injuries.

Only four of the sows selected by the farmers, were considered unfit for transportation. They remained in the herd and were not included in the study. A significant part of the rest of the sows had various injuries or disabilities that might affect their welfare during transport.

- The various injuries or lesions indicate that the sows are more sensitive to the strain related to transportation than other types of pigs, says Karen Thodberg.

Less than 1 percent of the sows were lame, and a major part of the sows showed signs of various injuries such as wounds (approx. 55 percent), superficial skin lesions (approx. 30 percent) and udder lesions (approx. 25 percent), and 60 sows had at least one shoulder ulcer.

Lactating cull sows may be more sensitive

A significant part - almost 40 percent - of the sows came directly from the farrowing barn, and were lactating at the day of transportation to slaughter. The lactating sows displayed a higher frequency of deviations from normal on clinical variables related to the udder, such as udder swellings and other signs of inflammation. In the scientific paper, the researchers discuss whether lactating cull sows have a higher sensitivity to heat stress caused by their high metabolism.

This study provides an overall insight into the extent as well as type of injuries and abnormalities in cull sows; however, there is a need for further knowledge about the sows' behavior and welfare in the last days of their lives.

- Our results demonstrate that there is a need for further studies focusing on different aspects of the condition of cull sows in the interval from the culling decision is made until the time of slaughter. These should also comprise the housing systems and group size that best ensure sow welfare in this period, as well as the conditions during transportation to the abattoir. The conditions for lactating cull sows should be given special attention, says Karen Thodberg.
This article was published in the print edition of Translational Animal Science on July 25, 2018 (, but was published online ahead of that on May 3, 2018.

Further information

You may want to read the scientific article Transportation of cull sows - a descriptive study of the clinical condition of cull sows before transportation to slaughter.

The study was initiated via a request from the Ministry of Environment and Food of Denmark as part of a major examination of livestock fitness for transportation.


Karen Thodberg
Department of Animal Science, Aarhus University
Tel.: +45 8715 7938

Mette S. Herskin
Department of Animal Science, AU
Tel.: +45 8715 7945
Mobile: 5050 2969

Aarhus University

Related Injuries Articles from Brightsurf:

COVID-19 frequently causes neurological injuries
Without directly invading the brain or nerves, the virus responsible for COVID-19 causes potentially damaging neurological injuries in about one in seven infected, a new study shows.

Head and neck injuries make up nearly 28% of all electric scooter accident injuries
A Henry Ford study is sounding the alarm on the rise of electric scooter injuries, and particularly head and neck injuries, since the 2017 introduction of e-scooter rideshare programs in urban centers.

Reasons for football injuries
If professional footballers are out of action due to injuries, this can have serious consequences for the club.

Glass tables can cause life-threatening injuries
Faulty glass in tables can cause life-threatening injuries, according to a Rutgers study, which provides evidence that stricter federal regulations are needed to protect consumers.

Concerns over police head injuries
Head injuries may be worryingly common among police officers, according to a new pilot study led by the University of Exeter.

Firework-related eye injuries
Emergency department data were used to describe the number, type, severity and factors associated with firework-related eye injuries that occurred in the United States from 1999 to 2017.

Injuries from motorized scooters
Motorized scooters are increasingly popular and, in this study, researchers analyzed medical information for 61 adults who visited a single emergency department with scooter-related injuries.

Children's fingertip injuries could signal abuse
Many children who suffer fingertip injuries have been abused, according to a Rutgers study.

Cell phone injuries
Cell phones are mainstays of daily life. This observational study analyzed 20 years of data on people who went to emergency departments with head and neck injuries from cell phone use to estimate the number of injuries, learn what types of injuries there were, and understand how the injuries occurred, such as from distracted driving or walking.

New study looks at motorized scooter injuries
More than half of people who received X-rays or CT scans after electric scooter accidents were found to have injuries, most commonly to the upper extremities, according to a new study.

Read More: Injuries News and Injuries Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to