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The Impact of Heat Stress on Swine

According to Smithfield’s Hog Production Division, heat stress costs the American swine industry about $900 million each year. Many growers tend to think that heat stress only affects swine weight, but according to Smithfield, $450 million – or half – of that loss is in the growing stage, and the other half is in the reduced breeding herd. Given the substantial effect of heat on the industry, it is crucial to monitor swine for heat stress, and there are telltale signs which point to heat stress that every farmer and rancher should know.

To start with the basics, it is important to know that, on average, the perfect temperate for swine slowly decreases as they grow. This is due to the fact that they produce heat more steadily as they get bigger. For instance, a newborn piglet’s ideal temperature is from 90-100 degrees, and by the time they are three weeks old, their optimal temperature drops to 75-85 degrees. (Gestating sows and boars prefer even cooler temperatures from 50-70 degrees.)

Why it’s important to keep a cool ambient temperature in the pigsty 

Keeping an ideal ambient temperature for sows, also known as female pigs, is vital for a multitude of reasons – primarily as a way to protect piglets throughout their adult life. For example, sows who experience heat stress while pregnant have a smaller litter size and weaker piglets. Sows that are too hot will also lactate less because they eat less to minimize the heat they produce. A lower milk production equals a reduced piglet weight gain.

The harmful effects on piglets are long-lasting because piglets born to heat-stressed sows will have increased core body temperature, which makes them more prone to heat stress after birth. A piglet’s metabolism is also negatively affected and results in less skeletal muscle and increased fat tissue as an adult. On average, pigs raised in environments that are too hot will have more fat deposits than pigs raised in cooler settings because the pig’s body will change how it uses nutrients. Nutrients are put towards fat growth rather than protein growth. The higher amount of fat reduces the health and quality of the swine.

Signs of heat stress

Due to pig’s thick subcutaneous fat, lack of sweat glands, and relatively small lungs, pigs are more prone to heat stress compared to animals that use sweating and panting as a means to cool down. Rather than sweating, pigs will lay down on a cool surface, take a mud bath, or will cool off in a small kiddie pool during the summer heat.

A few indications of pigs in distress include thick drool, glazed eyes (rimmed with bright red or dark pink), skin that is very warm to the touch, vomiting, and stumbling. Excessively panting is a sign that the pig’s life is in grave danger since they tend not to pant overall. This attempt to bring down their temperature is typically ineffective. Pigs will also drink more water and consume less feed when they are too hot. This is an issue because drinking too much water can lower the electrolytes in their body to a dangerous level which can cause an acidic/basic imbalance and lead to a severe health crisis. Consuming less feed is also detrimental because it causes swine market weights to be lower than the standard goal weight.

Cooling solution

During the day, pigs should have access to plenty of clean and cool water, a shady area to rest, and preferably a mud hole. If needed, sunscreen can be used in circumstances where mud holes and shade are unreliable. At night, the pigsty should have enough ventilation with light straw bedding.

To mitigate the ill effects of heat stress on swine, aspire to maintain a comfortable temperature in the pigsty. Install a fixed evaporative cooling system with Kuul Vitality to reduce the threat of heat stress. This can help aid in saving capital lost from piglets suffering long-term effects from heat stress and adult pigs who weigh less than they should.

If you have any questions about which media is right for your farm, the Kuul customer service team can be contacted at kuulsupport@portacool.com and (800) 695-2942. They are ready to chat about the different customizations and cooling benefits to keep swine healthy for a high market rate weight.