We have recently seen that harsh winters are hardly a thing of the past. Thermometers have been well below zero for several days and according to the latest forecast this may well continue for a while. It does not make life easier for pig farmers and their animals... We therefore thought it might be a good idea to draw attention to some measures related to cold stress. Once again, it all comes down to checking the basic principles of air, water and feed on the farm as thoroughly as possible.
Pigs have a fairly limited thermal comfort zone. We all know that pigs are prone to heat stress during the summer, but the fact that pigs can also suffer from low ambient temperatures is much less known. In both cases (too cold, too hot), the animal's behaviour changes. It becomes less active and will consume less feed (or less frequently). Animals that fail to adequately maintain their body temperature, become extra sensitive to diseases as a result of reduced resistance. This is usually accompanied by a reduced growth rate and reduced fertility.
Cold air enters the house more easily than warm air and, in principle, contains more oxygen.
One of the biggest mistakes regularly made is that with duct ventilation or a fresh air inlet system, the inlets are closed too much for fear of an excessively cold pig house environment.
Proper hydration of the body is important to support all metabolic functions in the vital organs. Checking water absorption is therefore also essential in cold weather. For sufficient water intake, the animal must also be physically active, which is usually not the case at low wind chill temperatures.
In cold conditions, pigs need additional energy (feed) to maintain their body temperature. In other words, more feed energy is burned with the aim of providing the animal with the necessary heat. Incidentally, this applies not only to piglets, but also to adult animals (finisher pigs, sows). This also explains why pigs housed in cold regions usually record a higher feed consumption: they lose more energy to heat production. This energy cannot be used to produce protein and fat in the body.
The feed composition also affects how pigs deal with cold stress. This is why some feed manufacturers preventively increase the energy content of the feed (e.g. +25 kcal NEv/kg). Increasing the amount of fermentable fibre can also help increase heat production in the animal. An adapted feeding strategy certainly offers possibilities to better protect pigs against extreme cold.
In the event of extreme cold, additional attention must obviously be paid to the proper functioning of the equipment used to distribute the feed: augers, silos,...