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Swine & U Column: Safety on the Farm This Fall

By Diane DeWitte, Extension swine educator
Originally printed in The LAND - as October 15/October 22, 2021 Swine & U column

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

The COVID pandemic’s residual requirements and effects on farm family health have left us with additional thoughts about how to deal with emergencies and how to practice all levels of safety at work. With that in mind, it’s a good time to review some of the most important safety issues facing swine producers.

The various stages of swine production produce different kinds of safety issues, including health challenges to both pig and caretaker.


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


Children who have grown up on the farm often have supreme confidence in the barn and on the machinery. While it is true that many farm kids learn responsibility at an early age, their ability may not be as well-developed as their confidence. When the farm kids are present, ensure that they understand your farm rules both when working with pigs and when moving around the machinery.

Drill their habits to include:

  • Step out of the way when the adults are moving pigs, unless they (the youth) have been trained and assigned a role in the process
  • Know that mama pigs can get upset when their babies are handled or when they squeal
  • Stay away from the barn when the manure is being pumped
  • Stand way back from the PTO shaft when it is running
  • Do not run up to the tractor/combine/truck until it has come to a stop and is not running
Adults must remember to remove the keys from machinery and trucks when exiting. Keys hanging in a vehicle are a tremendous temptation to children.


  • 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 veterinarian 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


With crop harvest in full swing this October, 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 onto the fields’ crop residue.

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 Boelke at

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


October 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!
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