Swine Production Tips and Feeding Strategies to Dodge Temperature Variations : Beating the Heat in Farrowing!
The effects of heat stress on lactating sows has been studied by several research institutions worldwide. We can look at primiparous (first parity) or multi-parous sows but the results are similar (Williams, 2009)
For this discussion, let us look at farrowing room environment conditions of 68°F (desired) vs. 77°F (hot). The period that should be most scrutinized is the ambient temperature from when the room is loaded until seven days after the sows have farrowed. This is the only stage of swine production that two distinct temperature environments are necessary because we have both a mature sow and newborn piglets in the same area.
To date, there has been much research on temperature of gestating sows leading up to farrowing (Robbins et al, 2019). Research of sows in groups has shown at which temperatures they are most comfortable.
Previous Research about swine management in heat situation
What are the best conditions for lactating sows?
Figure 1. Gestal Quattro performance feeder can motivate the sow to eat at defined periods of the day and shows her consumption amount on the screen vs. targets for her parity and day of lactation. This feeder can also control the piglet microenvironment.
For lactating sows, a general guide suggests 59-79 oF as the optimal range, and 59 to 90oF as the extreme min and max of the recommended thermal conditions, respectively (Salak-Johnson et al., 2010). A more recent heat stress study with lactating sows considered the thermoneutral conditions 64 to 68oF, and heat stress conditions 75 to 86oF. (Williams et al, 2013).
Because of the effects of airspeed, humidity, animal size, etc., these temperatures should be guideposts, with sow performance and behavior being the ultimate determinant.
How heat impacts farrowing sows
Sows in hot farrowing rooms (77oF) show significantly higher respiration rate, increased surface, rectal, and udder temperatures as well as longer farrowing duration which can lead to increase stillbirths (Quiniou, et al., 1999). Conversely for sows in a moderate temperature rooms (72oF) at farrowing, increases in lactation feed intake and heavier weaning weights have been documented (Muns et al., 2016).
Based on these results, 72°F has been the accepted norm for Europe vs. 68°F room temperature for North America.
Providing Two Environments: a swine production and management challenge
The real discussion point is keeping the piglets warm without sacrificing sow comfort, feed intake, and milk production. Unfortunately, it remains a common scenario to observe producers overheating farrowing rooms in an attempt to prevent piglet scours at the sacrifice of sow feed and water intake.
The main criteria to maintain creep environment is freedom from drafts and a defined laying area, as well as an acceptable temperature.
Strategies to combat the problem
How do we combat this problem? Here are some successful swine production strategies currently implemented at many high-performing farms:
1. Implementing feeding strategies to encourage sow feed intake in the late evening and earlier morning hours
This will entice the sow to get up earlier and eat more of her ad-libitum feed during the cooler morning hours vs. hotter afternoon and evening feedings. Stimulating the sow early in the day will increase her total daily intake, and thus milk production to achieve heavier weaning weights and rebreeding success.
A programmable swine feeding system or frequent human presence can entice a sow to get up automatically at set periods throughout the day and allow nursing bouts after the meal to give smaller piglets more opportunities to get milk from one of the front teats which tend to produce more milk.
As long as the sow is able to stand up at her own free will, preweaning mortality is not likely to be impacted (Leonard et al., 2020) reported that lactating sows typically stand about 120 minutes per day. A goal of precision feeding is to have her standing at multiple times per day vs. one longer standing bout.
2. Getting the right farrowing equipment set up