With Autumn well underway and the clocks set to go back later this month, that feeling of dread can loom as we start to think about preparing our pigs for the long winter ahead. Planning is key at this time of year and adjustments needn’t be overwhelming if they are broken down into smaller tasks. Here are some handy tips for caring for your pigs as the weather turns colder.
Most obvious when the weather begins to turn is the need to provide pigs adequate shelter from the elements. Even though they are hardy animals and generate a lot of warmth, pigs need us to provide the right environment so they can stay comfortable in cold weather.
Adapting their environment is critical to support a healthy growth rate. There are so many housing options including an ark, pigsty, shed or stable but whatever you have, it needs to be well-ventilated and draught-free. Most of the heat is usually lost through the roof, so a well-insulated roof is a must, the pigs will then provide the rest of the heat themselves.
Straw on the floor will make for a warm and comfortable sleeping area as pigs like to nest, and it also helps to avoid any damage to their hocks (ankle joints). Sweep the house out approximately every four weeks, once the straw has broken down, this can be left at the front or rear of the ark and the inside bedding area can be replaced with fresh straw.
Pigs need plenty of outdoor space to roam and root around which will keep them in good shape over the winter. A lack of adequate space and inadequate stimulation can lead to tail biting and aggression so it’s important to provide plenty of enrichment to help reduce stress and support their feed intake to encourage healthy growth. Make sure they have a dry corner out of the wind and if they are in a pen block up any holes that let in a significant draft. Also, ensure the drainage is adequate – a wet pig is a cold pig!
At the rearing and finishing stages pigs need to be supported by the optimum balance of nutrients for healthy and efficient growth to maximise lean meat deposition. Subtle changes to their winter housing will help to ensure they are feeding well – for example, make sure all areas can be lit during feeding as this is a crucial time to observe whether they are in good health. If you are feeding your pigs twice a day, and both are in the dark it could affect their health and sleeping patterns.
The brand-new ‘Farmgate Traditional Grader’ is a later-stage finisher diet developed to maximise lean tissue deposition and lower backfat, helping smallholders to optimise their finishing pigs by decreasing days to slaughter whilst encouraging a better final product. It’s formulated to contain a high protein-to-energy ratio to encourage improved FCR and includes all the necessary vitamins and minerals required to keep your pigs healthy during the winter.
As temperatures drop, managing hydration is still a critical part of your daily pig care routine. Providing access to continuous, fresh and palatable water can prove to be a challenge in freezing conditions. You may need to break down solid lumps of ice a couple of times a day during the worst conditions to ensure your pigs are still drinking enough water to maintain sufficient growth rates. Water is critical to proper cell function; it helps to regulate body temperature and aids with nutrient transport within the body for efficient growth.
A healthy pig can be identified by its curly tail, clean skin and silk coat exempt from roughness and redness, with bright eyes, alert and aware of their surroundings and owners. Your pigs should have well-formed stools, a good body, a healthy appetite and be able to move around without limping.
Cold weather can impact the nutritional requirements of your pigs, so it’s crucial to plan for the winter months to consider any changes to housing and feed. Choosing a good quality feed which is palatable and has the correct nutritional balance for your herd will pay off when it matters the most, ensuring that your pig's health and performance are supported all year round.