Weaning device wins prize and praise

By Stacey Ashley

Editor’s note: Stacey Ashley is Public Relations and Communications Manager, HyLife. She can be contacted at stacey.ashley@hylife.com.

The F.X. Aherne Prize for Innovative Pork Production recognizes individuals who have developed either original solutions to pork production challenges or creative uses of known technology. The prize is named for the late Frank Aherne, a professor at the University of Alberta, who was a major force for science-based progress in the Canadian pork industry.

HyLife’s Robert Lafrenière (left) and Barak Doell (right) accepted the F.X. Aherne Prize, for their team’s invention of a weaning ramp to improve animal care.

A new HyLife weaning ramp has the potential to improve animal care across the industry. The device was awarded the F.X. Aherne Prize during the 2023 Banff Pork Seminar.

The ramp was created by HyLife’s Continuous Improvement (CI) Team, a group of engineers dedicated to solving challenges while improving animal welfare. After listening to farm employees, it was discovered that picking up piglets and bringing them to the employee performing vaccination placed a strain on both the staff and animals.

The award-winning invention

To use the invention, piglets enter the alleyway and towards the ramp, in groups. Once up the ramp, a gate using a pulley system is lowered. Employees can easily begin picking the piglets from waist height to be vaccinated. The animals are then gently placed on a slide, depending on their sex. Gradual sloping slides, off each side of the station, bring the piglet back down slowly and safely to ground level.  

“We knew there was a better way. We prioritized animal care and leaned on our in-house experts and CI team to develop a creative solution,” said Lyle Loewen, Senior Vice President, Farms Division, HyLife. “The result is a ramp that eliminates the need to pick up piglets. This means less stress and more safety for both our animals and employees.”

Even before winning the Aherne Prize, the in-house invention captured the interest of renowned animal behavioralist, Temple Grandin.

Renowned animal behavioralist, Temple Grandin, toured HyLife’s farms and processing plant in Neepawa, Manitoba, praising the team’s efforts.

“This innovative system should be in every sow farm for vaccinating weaned piglets… I can’t say enough good things about it,” said Grandin. “It should go industry-wide. I was amazed how well those little pigs used the ramp; that’s the kind of stuff that makes handling easier.”

Grandin is widely considered a leading expert in her field, and as part of HyLife’s ongoing commitment to animal welfare, the company recently engaged the professor of animal science and distinguished author. She traveled to Canada to extensively tour operations, including HyLife’s farms and processing plant in Neepawa, Manitoba. During her evaluation, Grandin paid close attention to animal handling practices and was extremely impressed with the uniqueness of the award-winning ramp.

HyLife is now investing in the ramps across all sow barns and continues to look for creative ways to improve animal care and employee safety.