Beat the ‘hog days’ of summer

Summer has just begun, but the temperatures of the dog days of summer have already shown up in some areas. It’s never too early, or late, to make sure that the environmental mechanisms on your farms are working at top efficiency to make sure that the hogs and caretakers are as comfortable as possible.

As every hog producer knows, the animals under our care don’t have the luxury of being able to sweat to cool themselves during summer’s high temperatures and humidity. Providing ample air movement and water sprinklers/misters can go a long way to keeping your hogs on the desired performance pace.

You may remember last summer the National Pork Board presented a series of webinars focusing on research that had been completed on the effects of heat stress on the various levels of hog production. Stressing the significance of heat stress effects in the swine industry, Iowa State University Animal Science Professor Lance Baumgard says that while all producers are concerned about porcine reproductive respiratory syndrome, that virus hits about 10% of the U.S. herd, “yet everyone is affected by heat stress.”

It is estimated that heat stress costs the U.S. swine herd $900 million a year in loss, with about half in the grow-finish stage and half in the reproductive stage. Those are numbers that need to make the entire industry, and individual producers, sit up and take notice.

It’s not surprising that our hogs’ performance is impacted by the heat, because we know how the heat and humidity affect our own health. Some days going from Point A to Point B is a strain, and a lot of the time the first thing we do is push away from the feed trough. The same is true of our hogs.

One thing that surprised me in the research presented last summer was the long-lasting impact that heat stress can have on your swine herd. Shelly Rhoads, a Virginia Tech assistant professor in Animal and Poultry Sciences, presented research showing that pigs enduring heat stress while in utero showed effects of heat stress and the potential to pass those impacts further down the lineage. Rhoads admitted that research results raised more questions, prompting the need for even more research.

For now producers can fine-tune the equipment at hand to keep their hogs comfortable and performing at the top of their game. In addition to equipment and facilities, it has been suggested that selecting breeding stock for heat tolerance can go a long way in keeping you from sweating the potentially poor performance of your herd.

The National Pork Board offers these tips to help your hogs when the heat rises.

  • Feed sows when it is cool — Provide feed to sows during the coolest parts of the day. Pigs in the growing and finishing stage will alter their eating behavior by eating more feed in the nighttime hours. Feeding sows in gestation in the early morning can help them stay cooler because the heat associated with digesting and metabolizing their meal dissipates prior to the heat of the day.
  • Check for estrus when it is cool — Check for estrus behavior and breed in the early morning or late evening. Sows are more likely to show estrus signs when it’s cooler, so more animals will be identified in standing heat during the coolest part of the day.
  • Keep boars cool, too — Sows are only half of the reproductive equation, so if you have boars, keep them cool with evaporative coolers or water misters. Boar libido is enhanced when it is cooler, so collect boars early in the morning or in the evening. If using natural service, also take advantage of the coolest part of the day.

There is a lot of summer left; let’s make the best of it and do the best to keep your hogs comfortable and your mind at ease.

Articles of interest:
Heat stress causes hog producers to sweat 
Heat stress impact on subsequent growth and reproduction of offspring 
Effects of gestational heat stress linger for generations 
Minimizing heat stress impact on breeding stock's performance 

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