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Importance of Temperature Control for Pigs Health & Performance

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Breeding Stock Health & Nutrition Education Show Pig Health and Nutrition

Baby it’s cold outside. But hopefully your showpigs aren’t cold.

Showpig.com visited with two regional experts on how they manage the cold and what it means to the success of their showpig operations.

Josh and Carrie Brockman own and operate Brockman Farms in Montgomery, Texas. Josh and Carrie’s herd consists of 30 sows that produce Hampshire, Yorkshire and Crossbred showpigs that are sold to exhibitors across the Southwestern U.S. Brockman has been involved in the showpig industry his entire life and knows the challenges of temperature control in south Texas.

He says southern Texas is traditionally warm, and any cold spells come and go quickly. When Texas weather does becomes colder, 32 to 45-degrees at night, it will warm back up to 60-75-degrees during the day. Brockman says this means an exhibitor’s barn should either be temperature controlled or be able to be shut down or closed at night then opened up during the day.

Using extra bedding like wheat or barley straw can give animals additional warmth. And when temperatures do drop below freezing Brockman tries to have some sort of cover inside the barn that is around the same height as the top of the pens to hold heat down. This can be as simple as a plastics tarp or sheet of plywood.

He also knows heat lamps are common and easy to use, but Brockman says they can be very dangerous. He is not a fan of them unless absolutely necessary and closely monitored.

“There have been too many instances when heat lamps are secured well but are torn down by the pig and start a fire,” he says. “It’s hard to use them at appropriate and useful heights that are out of a pig’s reach. They also create a very direct heat that isn’t consistent for the pig. My suggestion is to stay away from heat lamps, but in some situations that is your only choice.”

Next Brockman says ventilation is extremely important to ensure fresh air is moving through the barn. When temperatures are high, even with an insulated barn, you must have good airflow moving through it or the temperatures will continue to increase more inside the barn walls. Fans are a good and cost efficient way to circulate air.

Brockman says pigs naturally like cold versus warm temperatures and many facilities expose their herd to colder temps, assuming the animals adjust accordingly. Exposing heavy-muscled hogs to colder temps can help them use more energy as they tone down from a muscle standpoint. But Brockman says even in this setting, it is important for pigs to have a warm place to rest and bed down during harsh weather.

“I would stick to my belief that 50-60 degrees in the best temp to shoot for when setting up your facility,” he says.

Jake Holt raises show hogs in temperatures that are very different from Brockman, with many days charting below zero wind chills. As the showpig manager for Shipley Swine Genetics in Newark, Ohio, it’s not uncommon for him to experience average temps in the 20s during the winter months of January and February.

Holt raises his showpigs in a climate-controlled building and depending on the size and age of the pigs, he keeps the temperature in the 60-75 degree range. He wants the building to be warm and closed up with no drafts. Holt says a draft is the biggest reason a pig will get sick.

Owners who have open barns should consider laying a piece of plywood across the top of the pen, which would drop the ceiling of the pen. As heat rises it would stay inside this part of the pen longer, and the pig would stay warmer. Holt used to make a small hot box for smaller pigs, using plywood for walls and a ceiling. Cut a hole in the roof, hang a heat lamp in it and the pig can stay warm in this makeshift box.

Holt says the most important parts of keeping a pig warm is to keep them in a climate controlled barn or inside a hot box, use straw and shavings to provide adequate bedding, prevent drafts and utilize a heat lamp in a safe distance from the pig and straw bedding.

Holt says the need to keep pigs warm is especially important when they weigh less than 150 pounds. As they grow, being exposed to cold temperatures is not uncommon. In fact, he says on a 12-degree January day he has 200-300 head outside in open-front huts. Holt is also not opposed to placing straw in the bedding with deep shavings to provide extra warmth.

Hogs rely on adequate fresh water to stay hydrated and healthy. Holt advises that all waterers should be checked on a regular basis, but this is especially true when the threat of frozen waterers arises.

A 50-degree day or night is as low as a hog needs to go before things can get tough. If a pig is shivering, coughing, has nasal discharge or has sunken eyes it’s time to warm them up fast. Holt says to pay attention to your animals’ basic routines and watch for changes in skin color, like a white hog turning red, to know if a pig is too cold or not.

“Remember pigs are tough and their ability to withstand tough situations is high,” he says. “An exhibitor should keep their showpigs in a warm temperature that will maintain their comfort and keep them on feed – that is the key.”

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