This experiment was designed to study the effects of stocking density in transit and the use of electric goads on pig welfare and subsequent meat quality. Sixty-four pens, totalling 1400 commercial crossbred hybrid pigs, were transported from a farm to a large commercial abattoir at either high (0·3 m2 per pig) or low (>0·4 m2 per pig) stocking densities. The lorry drivers loaded and unloaded the pens of pigs at either end of their journey with, or without, an electric goad. Similarly, lairage men moved groups of pigs from their lairage pens to the stunning and slaughter area with, or without, goads. Consequently, eight possible treatment combinations arose from this 2 × 2 × 2 factorial experiment. About 20 h after slaughter, the fibre optic probe (FOP) value of the longissimus dorsi muscle was recorded and carcasses were scored for the extent of skin blemish. Pigs in high stocking density groups (HSD) had lower FOP values than those on low stocking density groups (LSD) (P < 0·05) and more severe skin blemish (P < 0·001). The effect of goading in transport or in the lairage, had no significant effect on the FOP values. However, the skin blemish data showed a significant interaction between the use of goads during transport and the stocking density treatment (P < 0·05). This interaction implied that the use of goads when loading pigs at a HSD was associated with a reduction in skin blemish. Conversely, the lowest skin blemish frequency was observed in the LSD treatment group handled without the aid of goads. Pigs in the HSD groups were visibly more skin damaged and exhibited evidence of rectal prolapse which was absent in pigs transported at LSD. Lower stocking densities are to be recommended as carcass, meat quality and pig welfare are probably improved. The use of goads is associated with a higher degree of carcass damage unless pigs are to be densely packed during transport.