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Dealing with weather challenges

Published: Friday, Jan. 10, 2014 1:38 p.m. CDT

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Adult pigs prefer 60 to 65 degree temperatures. Baby pigs desire an 80 to 85 degree environment. To meet both of their needs, we strive for a 73 degree room temperature in the birthing rooms and then cool the room to 70 degrees as the pigs reach 7 days old. The mothers do very well at these temperatures, but baby pigs chill at 73 degrees. To accommodate the baby pigs’ need for an 80-plus degree environment, they are provided with a black rubber mat and a heat lamp to achieve a comfortable area for them to nap in.

I enjoy seeing a litter of 12 or 13 baby pigs stretched out on their mat and under their heat lamp. To me that is a beautiful site. The baby pigs will be attracted to the light and warmth of the heat lamp.

In weather like we have had, the farrowing attendant must pay special attention to seeing that each individual piglet is dried off, receives colostrums milk and finds the warm spot under the heat lamp. The first few hours of the piglets’ life determines its future and how well it will grow its entire life.

The weather challenge is making sure the ventilation is working properly. The correct airflow is necessary to remove carbon dioxide and provide fresh air. Too much air movement increases evaporation and causes the baby pigs to chill. Not enough air movement causes a damp environment which makes the animals uncomfortable and increases bacterial growth which challenges the animals.

The specific problem in extreme cold is the fans, which exhaust the air and are cycled on and off for the correct environment. A common setting we use is one minute on and six minutes off. During the off-cycle the fan blades can have ice and snow freeze around them and become stuck. Then they will not work to provide the correct air exchange.

In the gestation area where only adult animals reside, the desired temperature is 60 to 65 degrees. In their home, the correct air exchange is necessary to provide fresh air and exhaust carbon dioxide. Just as with baby pigs, too much air flow causes them to chill. Not enough air flow creates a damp uncomfortable environment, and an environment that supports bacterial growth which increases the chance of the animal becoming sick and not feeling well. If the female animal becomes sick and has a fever, the chance of them aborting their litter increases.

On Monday, I found one building with three out of six fans not working due to snow blowing around the fan blades causing them to stick. I was able to remedy the problem and achieve a desirable environment for those animals. For an experienced herdsman, it is easy to tell if an animal is comfortable or not by watching their behavior. If they are huddled too close together and their hair is standing up on their back and they are grumpy, it is a sign they are cold. If they are spread out and not touching each other, they are too hot. Either one is not desirable. It is important in animal production for the animals to be comfortable. A comfortable environment promotes good health and animals that are happy. Animals that are healthy and happy, do well.

Another challenge in severe winter weather like we have had is getting employees to work. I had two employees stay all night at my house on two different nights. I used a tractor and an end loader to get the three of us to work. The other employees did not make it to work for two days. The three of use did the work that six people normally do. I am very appreciative of those employees who were willing to be there.

Steve Cowser is a pork producer in the Bradford area.

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