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'Backspacer Device' improves worker safety, reduces pig stress

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Maple Leaf Agri-Farms Veterinarian Jewel White details the idea behind the innovation and its impact on farm.

Each year, the Banff Pork Seminar's F. X. Aherne Prize for Innovative Pork Production is like a great race where everyone can enter, and indeed everyone in the pork industry is a potential player.

"Winners of the Aherne Prize over the years have ranged from barn staff to company management to consultants serving the industry," says Ben Willing, awards committee chair for the Seminar. "Entries come from across North America and inventions have ranged from the very simple to very complex and sophisticated."

"They all have one equal factor though," he says. "All directly improve pork production."

The 2022 Aherne Prize winners check all the boxes with their invention entry, says Willing who presented the award from the meeting floor in Banff. Veterinarian Jewel White and her teammates, Ronald Nayre and Jim Kehler of Maple Leaf Agri-Farms in Landmark, Manitoba have developed a tool that significantly improves animal care and worker safety.

They've called it "The Backspacer Device." And in her own words, Jewel White describes the process that led to the development and the resulting invention itself.

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"At Maple Leaf, we always seek ways to enhance animal care for our pigs and safety for our people. Our recent 100% conversion to open sow housing reflects this commitment. But when it comes to animal care, we are always looking for our 'next best thing.' We saw an opportunity for a 'win-win' to improve both animal care and people safety at the same time.

"As a herd veterinarian (White is senior Manager, animal health and welfare) for Maple Leaf Agri-Farms' sow herds, I collect many blood samples, and I'm familiar with the process and its challenges and risks. The most common method is for a barn worker to use a snout snare to restrain the gilt or sow in a temporary stall for the procedure and pull the pig forward while the team member leans into the stall. Pulling the pig forward with a snare stresses both the pig and the team member. And if the snare comes loose, the pig can suddenly impact the team member and cause injury.

"I thought that there must be a device to make blood collection safer and less stressful, so I analyzed the process. I realized that if we could move the pig toward the forward to the end of the stall during the process so it couldn't back up, the team member could have better access to draw blood. This would create less stress for the pig and greater people safety. We needed our solution to be portable, comfortable for the pig and easy to wash and disinfect.

"I discussed my idea with our veterinary assistant, Ronald Nayre and our maintenance technician, Jim Kehler. Together the three of us discussed and developed the Maple Leaf Agri-Farms (MLAF) Backspacer Device which met all of our criteria for success.

"We conceptualized a smooth spacer that could be inserted behind a pig – almost like moving a car seat forward so the driver is well positioned and secure. We created a light, aluminum device that could be inserted into the stall during the process and moved to the next stall when the process is complete. Our Backspacer Device has the following components:

  • 1 ¼" aluminum square tubing
  • 1" aluminum square tubing
  • 5/16 stainless steel rod
  • ¾ x 3/16 stainless flat bar
  • 1/8 puck board

"The Backspacer we created is a big help in improving our people's safety. It reduces the pulling that is needed on the snout snare, reduces the need to lean into the stall and decreases the risk that the snare could come loose and allow the pig to impact the team member.

"Through our innovation, we reduced pig stress, improved overall care and protected our people. Given the success we've experienced with our multiplication herds, we now have created identical devices for all our Maple Leaf Agri-Farms sow barns.

"And we are happy to share this concept with the larger pork industry to improve the care that all pig producers can provide to their pigs."

Source: Meristem Land and Science, which is solely responsible for the information provided, and wholly own the information. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.

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