As unpredictable as our summer weather may be, it’s vital that during the warmer months, or if like last year, incredibly hot days, we pay particular attention to our pigs.
Hot summers can be unpleasant for pigs, they feel the heat just as we do, but as they don’t have any sweat glands, they’re unable to sweat to help keep cool and regulate a normal body temperature. This can lead to heat stress which in turn can significantly affect your pig’s performance and growth.
The UK has a humid climate and when combined with the warmer summer months even in temperatures of 25°C pigs can quickly succumb to heat stress.
Any sudden extreme rises in the temperature can lead to acute heat stress. In some cases, this can be life threatening, particularly for mature pigs, finishers and developing gilts.
What to look out for. The main indicators that your pigs may be suffering from heat stress include:
With close management you can reduce the risk of heat stress and maintain the welfare of your pigs.
Keeping your pigs in optimal health year-round with a well-balanced, nutritious diet is key. Pigs most susceptible to heat stress are overweight sows during farrowing and a fat pig with too much condition. One of the first signs of heat stress is feed refusal or reduced feed intake, which leads to reduced growth rates.
To maintain their consumption, it’s recommended to feed your pigs when the temperature is at its lowest, either early morning or later in the evening. Another tip is to soak the feed in a little water, this also ensures that the all-important additional water is consumed too.
Increase the amount of water available to your pigs in terms of cool, clean drinking water and water they can use to cool off in. Pigs like to wallow in mud to cool themselves. Bear in mind that it’s not the mud that cools them down but the evaporation process as the mud dries. The dried mud will provide a little sun protection but do ensure your pigs have access to plenty of shade too.
Regularly sprinkling water in one-to-two-minute bursts is a good idea. You need to allow time between hosing off for the moisture on your pig’s skin to evaporate as it’s this evaporation of the water that cools them down.
If your pigs are housed indoors, good ventilation is vital. Have fans that exhaust out of the building. Poorly ventilated buildings can quickly turn into a heat stress emergency during hot weather. Consider using additional fans over the pens to speed up air flow and reduce the number of pigs in each building so that enough air can circulate.
With outdoor housing, the standard practice is to have the door of the hut to face north to provide shade and a cooler area around the door and fender. Ideally have at least 2 sides open to allow for natural air flow. You can also help to reduce the heat build-up inside by painting farrowing arcs white, this will reflect sunlight and can reduce inside temperature inside by up to 7°C. Combining this with insultation will give an added temperature reducing effect.
By keeping a close eye on your pigs’ health and condition throughout the warmer weather you will be able to minimise the effects of heat stress. With careful summer management, warmer weather doesn’t have to mean a decline in performance. If you monitor your pigs’ environment, feed, water and overall health you can keep your pigs in the best condition for the summer and beyond.