Environmental essentials: How to keep pigs comfortable through weaning

Proper water availability, air quality and feed space can help support long-term pig performance.

October 7, 2015

3 Min Read
Environmental essentials: How to keep pigs comfortable through weaning

A pig’s environment can be a deciding factor in long-term productivity. By providing quality water, nutrition and air, weaned pigs have a greater potential to transition smoothly through weaning and reach the finish line.

Dan McManus, DVM, swine specialist for Purina Animal Nutrition, serves as a resource for nursery and wean-to-finish managers across the country. The first thing he does when visiting a farm is evaluate the environment.

“The environment is something that people often overlook, but it plays a significant role in the pig production cycle. If pigs are comfortable, they are more likely to go to the feeder,” he says. “Checking the environment should be one of the first things you do day after day when you are looking at pigs.”

Three areas to focus on are: water availability, air quality and feed space.

Water availability

The first essential component of a proper wean-to-finish environment is water.

Unfortunately, an estimated 49 percent of newly weaned pigs do not consume water in the first 25 hours post-weaning.[1] This delay in hydration may be caused by the stress of transport or the transition from farrowing facility to nursery.

“If pigs are dehydrated, they’re much less likely to transition onto dry feed,” McManus says. “Make sure the facility has enough drinkers and adequate flow rates. Provide electrolytes through a water medicator and gel on mats to help promote hydration during this critical phase.”


By the numbers:

  • Provide at least one water drinker for 10 pigs with a flow rate of 250 to 500 milliliters per minute for pigs in the grow-finish phase.[2]

  • Add electrolytes through a water medicator for 5 to 7 days post-weaning.

  • Mat-feed gel for at least 2 days pre-weaning; for the first 5 days post-weaning; and one day before and one day after vaccination.

Air quality

The air pigs breathe can also impact their long-term performance.

When evaluating the pig’s environment, evaluate humidity, odor levels and moisture. All of these air quality factors are controlled by the minimum ventilation settings on the facility’s control system.

McManus recommends the environment temperature for the wean-to-finish barn or nursery to be approximately 80 degrees Fahrenheit. When it comes to humidity, this factor does not negatively impact swine performance. However, combined with high temperatures, high humidity can have negative effects on pig performance.[3]

“When looking at ammonia levels, use equipment or your eyes,” McManus says. “If the ammonia levels are high, your eyes will start to water.”

Modifying ventilation systems and managing manure can lower ammonia levels. Strategies for reducing ammonia levels include: increasing airflow rate, controlling air distribution, removing manure frequently and treating pit manure.[4]

Feeder space

The ultimate goal of the weaning transition is to create eaters. To help pigs start eating quickly, provide highly-palatable starter feed, like UltraCare® 100, 200 or 240, and adequate feeder space.

Like water, it is important for the pigs to have enough feeder space. McManus says 1-inch of feeder space per pig is needed for pigs ranging from 40 to 50 pounds. As the pigs grow larger than 50 pounds, the recommended feeder space increases to 2-inches per pig.

The amount of feed in the feeder can then help increase consumption.

“We recommend a 50 percent pan coverage when looking at feeders,” McManus says. “It is very important for each feeder to hold about 24 hours’ worth of fresh feed. This allows pigs to return to the feeder often as their consumption levels increase”

To ensure freshness, dispense no more than 24 hours’ worth of early feed at a time and clean out feed refusals each day.

To learn more about young pig nutrition and management, visit www.ultracarefeed.com or contact Dan McManus at (712) 898-2162 or [email protected].


[1] Varley and Stockill. 2001.

[2] Brumm. 2012.

[3] Myer and Bucklin. 2012.

[4] Heber, Jones and Sutton. 1996.

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