It’s tough to take the heat

Summers can be a challenging time for sow farms, however, there are small things producers can do to alleviate some of the heat stress.

May 29, 2023

3 Min Read
Sow farm.jpg
National Pork Board

With summer coming up, we have to make sure we are planning accordingly for managing our sow farms through the heat. Make sure you are checking your facilities to ensure your equipment is ready and there is no winter damage. Make a checklist for your teams; a few items to note are:

  • Generator checks, including having plenty of diesel, oil and engine coolant on hand

  • Check your loadout water supply for cracks and leaks

  • Fix any potholes in the road and your drives

  • Check that your cool cells and pumps are working and don’t have any buildup on the cool cell pads, and make sure you have extra pumps on hand

  • Check and clean your fans

  • Remove winter insulation and check inlets

  • Check curtains and emergency drop function

  • Adjust your alarm settings to summer parameters

This is not an exhaustive list, but key items to make sure you include in your summer preparation plan. It is important to check equipment ahead of consistently high temperatures so you can make adjustments, repairs and orders as needed. If everything is functioning properly, the most we can drop the temperature from outside is 10 to 15 degrees.

Even with accommodations to lower the temperature, there are additional management adjustments we can make to help alleviate the effects of the heat inside barns.

Intake down, diet density up
Through the summer months, we expect we are going to drop in peak consumption. This is more detrimental when we drop feed consumption in the farrowing house, as the animals are prone to significantly drop their body condition under normal conditions. In the summer months, the sows are not as hungry. So, they will not eat very well, dropping their body fat and leading to a negative impact on their reproductive future, as it decreases their wean-to-estrus interval.

In coordination with a nutritionist, we need to make a plan for a more nutrient-dense diet that doesn’t require them to eat as many pounds — we are striving for nutritional consistency. With the animals eating less, they may leave leftover feed. Make sure you clean the feeders daily so the feed doesn't spoil, since this can further deter the sow from eating.

Also, though this should go without saying, make sure you are checking their water supply to ensure appropriate water flow and that there are no blockages.

Cool the stress
One of the first signs of overheating is panting — we consider a sow with a respiratory rate of over 80 breaths per minute prone to heat stress. We can implement dropping coolers over the animal's head to help cool them down. The simplest way to do this is to take a regular plastic tote and poke a few holes in it with a 20-gauge needle. Place an ice pack and water in the tote and allow it to naturally drip on the sow, ideally over her head and shoulders. 

Limit semen dose exposure
In order to help with reproductive losses, check to make sure your semen cooler is functioning properly. You don't want to expose the doses for longer than necessary. Plan ahead for how many sows and gilts you plan to inseminate so you aren't returning any doses to the storage area. Better yet, I recommend making a couple trips to get more doses so you can maintain a consistent temperature and limit impact on quality. I recommend you perform heat checks in the morning when they are more likely to show clinical signs of estrus.

Aim stressful events for cooler times
Plan to do any vaccinations or injections in the morning. It can also be easier to administer if timed with the animals' feed drop. This will help limit reproductive losses and abortions that could happen if they are stressed out later in the day.

The summers can be a challenging time for sow farms to keep their animals on the right track; however, there are small things we can do that may have a positive impact on alleviating some of the heat stress they are facing. Work closely with your veterinarian to identify additional heat management opportunities specific to your operation.

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