Don’t lose your cool!

Posted on June 22, 2012 in Swine Performance
By Jessica Boehm

Even though it may have felt like it for a while, we have now officially entered into the summer of 2012 this week – and the heat is on! With the extra heat and humidity hanging around, both our pigs and workers can become overheated more quickly.  With a good understanding of our We Care principles, we may have to pay special attention this time of the year. Loading, unloading and transporting pigs is a stressful time for pigs even when the temperature is ideal.  You know this whether you have nursery pigs, finishers or sows.  When you add additional heat and humidity to your barns, both your workers and pigs can become more stressed and, if not careful and diligent, this could negatively affect your bottom line.  If you think about it, the time you transport your market hogs is when you see your return on the past months’ investment.  It doesn’t make sense to feed, vaccinate, treat, and grow pigs and then lose them in the end. We need to have the best care in the beginning, middle and end of all pig production phases. We can compare this to running a relay on the track team.  You’re off to a great start and then you hand off the baton to another person on your team.  He or she does really well and passes it again, but the next person drops the baton and things take a turn for the worse.  At the end of the race, you don’t finish where you had planned. In pig production, this is your return on investment.  There are certain things you have control of and certain things you do not.  Animal handling is one aspect that we have control of and it has a direct link to your bottom line. If your pigs become stressed, you may notice an increased incidence of fatigued pigs.  A fatigued pig is also called non-ambulatory non-injured pig.  A pig in this state has no obvious injury, trauma or disease, but refuses to walk.  Before this point, you will notice open mouthed breathing, skin discoloration or blotchiness, abnormal vocalizations, and muscle tremors. These animals will recover if given the opportunity; however it may take two to three hours before they’re back to normal.  The ideal situation would be to prevent a pig from becoming fatigued in the first place.  We can accomplish that by using proper handling techniques that include (1) limiting the use of the hot shot by using sort boards and (2) moving pigs in smaller groups.  Let’s address the handling tools first. The graphs below depict physiological differences between pigs handled gently and pigs handled aggressively. Physiological differences between pigs handled gently and aggressively. Charts courtesy of Transport Quality Assurance guidelines provided by the Pork Checkoff. Group size of pigs has influence on your bottom line as well. A study has shown that handling pigs in groups of four pigs versus eight pigs actually saved time during loading and resulted in fewer fatigued pigs and less animal loss at the packing plant. Based on this, the Transport Quality Assurance (TQA) suggests moving four to six pigs at a time for the best handling of the pigs.  Take a look at the following materials for more information about handling pigs and how heat stress impacts your animals:

  • Transport Quality Assurance Handbook
  • Transport Quality Assurance Weather Conditions

Year-round we need to implement the We Care principles, but during times of heat stress we must be extra attentive to the needs of the pigs.  By keeping the workers and pigs in your barns more comfortable, you should notice differences in your bottom line and your return on investment. About the author:  Jessica Boehm previously worked as the Vita Plus swine technical information specialist.  She attended the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and earned a bachelor’s degree with a major in biology and minor in chemistry and psychology in 2006.  She earned her master’s degree in swine nutrition at UW-Madison in 2009.  She was raised in southern Wisconsin and spent her time on the family farm, raising veal, sheep, steers, pigs and tobacco.  Boehm is active in her community and on the family farm, and enjoys outdoor activities and spending time with her husband, Justin.

Category: Facility design
Heat stress
Swine Performance