Finishing Strong in the Heat (Stress) of Summer

For producers with finishing pigs, summers can be rough. You’re trying to keep pigs cool while the temperatures rise. You’re trying to keep them eating and gaining consistently at a time when they’d rather lay around than get up and move to the feeder. You’re trying to keep them healthy while pathogens are trying to flourish. But most importantly, you’re trying to get them to the finish line so that all that time and money provides a solid return.

Several concerns arise for pig producers during the summer months.

Driving intake becomes critical in the heat.

As pigs eat, they generate internal body heat from digestion. When pigs get hot in the summer, they slow their feed intake. So, when they are already in a warm environment, they stop eating consistently, often waiting to eat until the cooler evening temperatures.

Decreased intake due to heat stress is a common problem, with heat stress causing up to a 30% reduction in feed intake. This reduced intake can ultimately increase your days to market – a significant issue if you are in a fixed-time situation.

HBS is a concern.

Hemorrhagic Bowel Syndrome (HBS) can be a significant issue for pork producers. Pigs in their late finishing stages die unexpectedly after looking otherwise healthy. With feed accounting for roughly 60% of your animal expenses, every bite taken by a pig lost to HBS is money out of your pocket.

While there is no definitive cause of HBS, the reason that most experts suggest is an inconsistent intake that leads to a microbial overgrowth in the gut. This can happen for many reasons; however, intake issues occur more in the summer because pigs don’t want to eat when they are hot. This leads to long stretches of low intake during the day and waiting until cooler nighttime stretches to head to the feeder, potentially overeating.

Ractopamine was a tool to address summer gain concerns at finish.

For years, ractopamine helped producers as they tried to add lean gain in the last 15-35 days before market by improving feed efficiency and bringing the animals back to a growth rate similar to their fastest growth stage. It was an excellent tool for bringing up fall behinds. It encouraged the slow growers and could sometimes help producers reduce their number of cuts.

However, some large export markets have cracked down on using ractopamine, causing packing plants to adjust their attitude around pigs produced using the product. These concerns spread throughout the supply chain; today, most of the US market is ractopamine-free.

Mortality in the finishing barn is expensive.

Every grower has mortality in their barns. As we continue to improve our production practices, it’s essential to recognize the actual cost of those late production losses. If animals are lost in the earlier stages, the per-animal cost is less because they’ve eaten less feed, used less medication and been in the barn less time. With older animals, their loss has to account for more feed, medication and time, as well as the opportunity cost of selling manure and other opportunities.

But pig mortality is increasing every year – especially in the bottom 10%. So it’s vital to find ways to address these late-stage mortality concerns.

What can producers do to keep pigs in top condition in the summer?

How can you address finishing issues during the heat? Here are five things to consider:

  • Make a plan from the start – Keeping pigs from falling behind starts in the nursery. Having a healthy gut keeps pigs healthy, on feed and at their highest level of nutrient absorption. Ralco’s Essential-Lyte™ is a water additive whose natural ingredients help get pigs going when they leave the sow – rehydrating, restoring vital nutrients, promoting immunity and lowering gut pH to manage pathogens.

  • Develop a diet that reduces heat increment – A diet formulated to limit the significant contributors to heat increment can help pigs maintain better consumption during the hot summer. Ralco’s EnMAXⓇ diets are specially formulated with less soybean meal to lower heat increment in digestion, helping pigs stay cool and on feed as they wrap up production.

  • Increase nutrients and energy in the face of lower intake – Decreased feed intake is expected during the summer, so make sure when pigs eat, they get all the nutrition they need.

  • Improve gut health – Nutrient absorption is driven by good gut health, as a healthy gut has a greater ability to utilize the nutrients in the diet and boost the immune system. Ralco’s ProsperEO™ is a natural feed additive that uses essential oils and prebiotics to support the immune system and encourage a healthy gut environment. Research has shown that using essential oils can provide an 87.5 % decrease in cases of HBS.

  • Provide plenty of fresh drinking water – Pigs with plenty to drink are also more likely to eat. Make sure your pigs have consistent access to fresh water.

Let Ralco help you finish well when heat stress is a concern.

Underperforming pigs and those lost in the finishing barn can significantly impact your bottom line. Our team of experts has developed a calculator to help you better understand the actual cost of loss and inefficiency – from feed efficiency to days to market.

Talk to a Ralco representative today to see how adding ProsperEO, Essential Lyte or EnMAX diet formulations to your operation could help make your farm more successful in the summer heat.