Skip to main content

Safety on the swine farm should never be taken for granted

 By Diane DeWitte, swine Extension educator. Originally printed in The LAND - August 21/August 28, 2020.

September is a busy and favorite time of year for all of us in agriculture. Harvest is near, there’s a lot to be done in crisp fall weather, and most farm families are working through repeated long days and short nights.

September always includes National Farm Safety & Health Week, and this year it will be September 20-26 with the theme: Every Farmer Counts. With that in mind, it’s a good time to review some of the most important safety issues facing swine producers.


Livestock farmers must address different types of farmer safety issues beyond those of the modern crop producer. When working with swine, caretakers deal with an intelligent, gregarious being with a long memory. Calm treatment and regular positive interaction quickly establish the pigs’ good behavior habits.

A 2006 12-week study showed that when a human walked through the pigs’ pens three times a week, 50% of them showed reduced flight behavior in seven weeks. Only 20% of the pigs who had been walked through one time per week exhibited reduced flight response in seven weeks. Swine producers know that slowly walking pens regularly will help pigs become accustomed to positive interactions with people.

Some stages of swine production produce different kinds of safety issues.


  • Handling piglets during post-farrowing health care can cause the sows to become agitated. If the pigs begin to squirm and make noise, the sow will respond to protect her young. Caretakers working with young pigs should keep a sorting panel close to block the sow from causing injury.
  • With the exception of young piglets and nursery pigs, most of the animals on the hog farm outweigh the caretaker. Steel-toed footwear is a must. In both Pork Quality Assurance Plus (PQA+) and Transport Quality Assurance (TQA) certification education for producers, the most highly recommended animal-handling implement is a solid sorting panel. The panel ensures the safety of both caretaker and pig.
  • Although many swine operations today conduct reproduction through artificial insemination, most still have a few boars on the farm for heat detection. A large sexually mature male animal on the farm should be moved and handled with caution and protection. Again, the solid sorting panel is the tool of choice when moving boars.


Farm safety statistics show that over 80% of farm workers and 73% of swine veterinarians have accidentally stuck themselves with a needle while giving injections to livestock. Most accidental needlestick injuries are minor, but secondary results could be skin infections, allergic reactions, or a wound that might need surgery.

Vaccines are the most common product that animal handlers inject into themselves. In swine farrowing settings, hormone products used to induce labor in pigs carry a warning against exposure to or accidental injection by pregnant humans. If possible, in the pig barn, pregnant employees should not handle hormones.

In addition to medical issues caused by rushed or thoughtless needle handling, mechanical problems can occur. Bent needles should never be straightened and used needles should be disposed of in proper sharps containers. Appropriate low-cost sharps containers are empty plastic detergent or fabric softener bottles with the lid screwed on tightly. Milk jugs are too flimsy for sharps containment and should not be used. When the sharps container is full, it should be tightly capped, sealed with heavy tape, and labeled that it contains sharps. Different counties have differing methods that they recommend for sharps disposal. A call to the county environmental services department can provide information for producers’ sharps disposal.

University of Minnesota’s collaboration with the Upper Midwest Ag Safety & Health Center (UMASH) has been at the forefront of the needlestick injury issue by providing bilingual fact sheets and producing videos to help farmers teach their animal caretakers. Needlestick prevention posters and more are available to producers on the internet at


A zoonotic disease is one which can pass from animal to human or vice versa. A common example in cattle and small ruminants is ringworm, the skin fungus which spreads easily. While ringworm in pigs is possible, it’s not much of an issue. More common is the chance of influenza spreading from caretakers to pigs or back.

The influenza viruses found in swine can infect humans, although it isn’t a common risk. However, human influenza viruses can infect pigs and can cause the outbreak of new viruses in the herd. Swine health professionals today lament that in many large herds, influenza is present on a regular basis. For this reason, producers vaccinate against swine influenza. Human caretakers must also get a seasonal flu vaccination to reduce the chances of variant viruses forming and infecting the swine herd.

Additional influenza information for swine producers can be found on the US Center for Disease Control website at


With crop growth on track for harvest in September, we will soon see plenty of semi-truck manure tankers on the road-side and tractors moving through the fields across our counties. As harvest progresses and the soil temperature decreases, pig farmers and commercial manure applicators will be working quickly to get hog manure applied and incorporated into the crop residue in the fields.

As drivers share the road with the large equipment needed to do this work, it’s important that attention is paid to what’s moving on the road and how fast. For drivers in farm country, this is also a time to be patient—the operator has limited speed capabilities and may not even know that a driver is behind the equipment.

Back in the barn, the manure handler has to be extra careful when pumping the pits. Methane, ammonia, and hydrogen sulfide is released as the stored manure is agitated and pumped. They are naturally-occurring gases, but they pose serious safety risks and can quickly overcome a human or a pig.

Producers should sure that hog buildings are fully ventilated when moving manure from the pits beneath. Use of the STOP tag on barn doors will alert everyone that manure is being pumped. These STOP tags can be obtained by contacting the MN Pork Board at 1-800-537-7576 or UM Extension swine educators Diane DeWitte at or Sarah Schieck at

More information about safe manure handling can be found on the University of Minnesota Extension manure management website at under the “safety” heading.


National Pork Checkoff reports that more than one million pigs are transported on U.S. roads daily. Our Minnesota contribution to that number is substantial, and the overwhelming majority get to their destination safely. Pig transport requires the driver to be alert and undistracted, to recognize his/her own symptoms of fatigue, and to know how to prevent or manage it.

In the event of a pig hauling incident on the road, the MN Pork Board and Minnesota’s Region 5 Emergency Management put seven emergency response trailers in strategic fire departments. The trailers contain equipment for handling and containing animals at an accident site, and include gates, chains, tarps and wire.

Currently the livestock emergency response trailers are housed with fire departments at Adams, Buffalo Lake, Fairmont, Granite Falls, Pipestone, Sleepy Eye, and Worthington. In the event of a livestock-hauling accident, responders can contact the nearest livestock emergency response host fire department. Department personnel will deliver a trailer to the site and assist with roadside training to get the animals contained.


September is the time when we see more farm machinery traffic on the road and in the field, but safety is on farmers’ minds year-round. Knowing how to work safely with swine, machinery, and other caretakers prevents loss or injury of humans and pigs!
Print Friendly and PDF