The summer months can bring about heat stress in livestock. Pigs are especially challenged because they do not have functional sweat glands to assist them in efficiently reducing body heat.
Although most pigs today are raised in modern facilities that provide some climate control, we are still limited in most facilities with our ability to cool pigs during extreme heat.
Pigs naturally remove body heat during periods of heat stress through a combination of:
-Decreased feed intake
-Increased water consumption
-Adjustments in physical activity and movement
According to University of Minnesota Extension, here's how pork producers can minimize heat stress for their pigs:
-Prepare and maintain cooling systems. Check cooling systems to ensure proper function. Ensure thermostats, fans, air inlets, drip coolers, sprinklers, cooling cells and any other related equipment are set for summer usage. Use of sprinklers along with fans can reduce the temperature in barns as long as the sprinklers are set correctly. Avoid sprinklers that produce a very fine mist because they will increase humidity levels in the barn. Similarly, cooling cells will be much more effective at lower humidity levels. Adjust ventilation systems to remove excess moisture from buildings.
-Adjust the feeding program. Since pigs will reduce their feed intake during periods of high temperatures, increase the nutritional density of the diet for growing pigs and lactating sows. You may increase the caloric density by including increased fat levels in the diet; however, if other nutrient levels are not also increased accordingly, animal performance will still suffer.
-Modify procedures during load-out and transportation of pigs. Perhaps the most stressful time for pigs in periods of heat is during transportation. Remove feed from pigs for 12-18 hours prior to moving them for market (remove feed, but not water). Load fewer pigs in order to allow maximum air movement. Keep vehicles in constant motion and open all vents and slats. Try to avoid moving pigs during the heat of the day, and allow more time for loading of pigs. Pigs are more apt to become fatigued during hot weather. Additional time and patience is required to effectively load pigs while minimizing stress on the pig as well as on the handler.
Pork producers can find more educational information at www.extension.umn.edu/swine.
-By Mark Whitney, U-M Extension swine specialist