As summer heat begins to build across much of the country this summer, pork producers should take extra precautions to ensure the best possible care and well-being for their animals and employees, according to the National Pork Board.
Some of the most basic precautions against the heat — assuring fans are working and that pigs have access to good air through proper ventilation – are only the first step to preventing animal stress. Adding misters/drippers and cool cells is another safeguard often employed since pigs don’t have sweat glands. However, if using misters, make sure water flow is sufficient for them to offer effective cooling since increasing relative humidity is counterproductive.
According to Sherrie Niekamp, Pork Checkoff’s director of swine welfare, loading and unloading pigs during early morning and late evening hours is highly recommended during periods of extreme heat and humidity (See chart below).
“Making sure trucks have all ventilation holes open and to minimize the amount of time the truck is not moving are key steps to avoid heat stress,” she says. “When the truck is stopped on hot days, the body temperature of the pigs will cause the already hot internal temperature to dangerously increase.” In extreme heat conditions, it is important to reduce the number of pigs loaded onto the truck.
In high temperature conditions, wetting the bedding and sprinkling the pigs with water just after loading can help cool the pigs once the trailer starts to move down the road. Niekamp says it is important to pay attention to the scheduled delivery time to avoid wait times at the plant and minimize the time the pigs are on the truck. It is also a good idea to identify alternative travel routes to avoid travel delays due to road construction. Producers, transporters and packers should exchange contact information so any emergency changes can be communicated.
Those working with pigs during extreme high temperatures should follow basic hot-weather advice such as taking more breaks than usual, preferably in air-conditioned rooms, drinking water before thirsty and staying out of midday sun whenever possible.
Whether it’s ensuring the well-being of their pigs or their employees, Niekamp says producers simply need to continue doing a good job demonstrating the associated We Care ethical principles. “It’s reassuring to know producers take their responsibility to care for the animals and employees seriously, especially during times of potential stress that we’re experiencing in most areas of the country right now with this heat.”
As part of the Pork Checkoff’s Transport Quality Assurance Program, producers should follow these basic transport guidelines for safeguarding their animals during high temperature extremes:
• Adjust loading space and density.
• Schedule transportation early in the morning or at night.
• Use wet shavings to keep hogs cool.
• Sprinkle hogs with water prior to loading at buying stations or on the farm (use a coarse heavy spray but not mist).
• Do not use straw bedding.
• Remove slats from farm trucks.
• Open nose vents on trucks.
• Unplug ventilation holes.
• Load and unload pigs promptly to avoid heat buildup.