The developer of a tool that improves handling for baby pigs at processing and improves the health and wellbeing of farm workers has been awarded the 2014 F.X. Aherne Prize for Innovative Pork Production by the Banff Pork Seminar, which is being held January 21-23 in Banff, Alberta. Helmut Janz, a barn manager for Maple Leaf in Zhoda, Manitoba, received the award for his invention called the "piglet processing arm."

"Innovation is the lifeblood of any industry and the F.X. Aherne Prize for Innovative Pork Production is an opportunity to recognize those individuals who have developed either original solutions to pork production challenges or creative uses of known technology," says Dr. Michael Dyck of the University of Alberta, chair of the F.X. Aherne prize committee.

The award is named after the late Dr. Frank Aherne, a professor of swine nutrition and production at the University of Alberta in Edmonton and a major force for science-based progress in the western Canadian pork industry.

As a hog barn manager, Helmut Janz recognized the need for a better way to process baby piglets when he saw employees suffer repetitive stress injuries as a result of performing piglet processing tasks.

His "piglet processing arm" gently and safely holds the animal and allows it to be pivoted and rotated during the handling process. This makes the processing of piglets a safer task by eliminating the potential for repetitive stress and strain injuries on the employees. 

The beauty of the design lies in its simplicity. It is constructed out of six simple, standardized, easy-to-source, low cost parts.


A universal joint similar to what is used on power take off shafts on tractors serves as the basis for the device. A holding plate for the piglets is attached to that and mounted on the processing cart. Various trial designs lead to improvements in the final product. Foam inserts were added to cradle the piglet and a Velcro strap was added to easily hold the piglet in place.

The processing arm is designed to attach to a processing cart. It can be adjusted for height of employee and can be used easily by both right and left handed people.

With this new tool processing tasks such as injections, tattooing, castrating, tail docking and oral drenching can now all be done with the piglet in the cradle by simply swiveling the arm to the correct position. Since the piglet can be processed without being held and squeezed by staff, there is less stress on the animal and far less repetitive stress on the staff.

The arm is now used by 40 people in 20 barns across the Maple Leaf system.   This means the processing arm will be used on approximately 1.5 million piglets annually.

As well, Maple Leaf is now manufacturing new custom designed carts for their barns with two arms. Use of the carts will be a mandatory part of operating procedures because they are seen as an important opportunity to improve injury prevention.

Held since 1972 the Banff Pork Seminar is coordinated by the Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science, University of Alberta, in cooperation with Alberta Pork, Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development and other pork industry representatives from across Canada.