Management over medication: Fall and winter preparation for your swine farm

Tips for prepping your small swine farm in the colder months.

two pigs laying down on sawdust shavings
Photo by Casey Zangaro, MSU Extension

Do you own and manage a small swine herd operation? Many things need to be addressed for the comfort and needs of the pigs as the seasons change and the weather gets colder. This typically involves some key considerations to ensure optimal health, welfare and productivity of the herd. The important things to keep in mind are heating, lighting, nutrition, health management, environmental management and record keeping of all the these items is essential.

In colder regions of the Midwest, such as Michigan, housing for the pigs may require supplemental heating to maintain an ambient temperature range for pig comfort. Most importantly managing unwanted air flow into the facility. Covering window and door cracks of unwanted cold air flow will help tremendously with keeping the facility at a stable temperature. Some simple things to consider are heating systems if electrical is easily accessible. These should be installed and used safely, with a routine maintenance plan that helps keep equipment working safely and efficiently. Heating equipment such as heat lamps or radiant heaters should be sufficient when installed in the most appropriate and most efficient space within the swine facility. Other non-electrical tools and tips for keeping pigs at warmer temperatures are straw bedding and blankets.

One key element that is often overlooked is the lighting for swine during the shorter and colder months. As the days get shorter in the fall and winter, having a set “daylight” schedule, such as 12 or 14 hours of artificial light help to keep the breeding herd at a more stable and constant reproductive cycle. This concept will also aid in the growth and overall well-being of all pig growth phases. Typically, keeping lighting stable and consistent as it would be in the spring and summer tends to keep the sows on a steady estrus cycle.

As colder months roll in, the pig’s nutrition should be adjusted accordingly. This typically includes increasing the energy needs within the diet to keep the pigs warm and steady weight-wise. Having clean and free access to water is essential, especially in the winter. Usually increasing the fat and protein percentage within the diet without increasing the total dietary calories is the easiest way to increase the total diet’s energy needs, however, consulting with your local feed mill or swine nutrition is always recommended.

Managing the health status of a swine herd during the colder months brings a unique set of challenges in terms of disease prevention and control. Biosecurity needs to be held at the utmost importance to minimize the risk of not only introducing diseases to the herd but also not spreading to the various growth stages and other herds within your neighborhood. Daily observation of every pig within the facility is essential to look for signs of ill-feeling pigs, any signs of pigs not feeling well should be addressed immediately either with isolation or with the proper veterinarian-prescribed medications.

Having dry and clean bedding is needed for overall swine comfort and welfare. Keeping the entire indoor facility clean and dry will decrease the risk of respiratory distress and skin issues. When considering the environmental aspects of the swine facility during the colder months, have a schedule to keep the facility clean and disinfected to ease the stress of the winter months on the pigs’ overall health.

Keeping a record of these important management techniques is essential for both the overall herd health status and allows you to troubleshoot any issues that could arise in the future. An easy way of recording is to keep up-to-date with your daily observations and by modifying your farm’s standard operating procedures (SOPs) as conditions change. Having a written plan of action and following through is the best way to keep your herd happy and healthy throughout the winter seasons.

Having and implementing specific management practices to keep your swine herd healthy and warm during the fall and winter months may vary based on the location, facilities and pig production system. However, keeping the heating, lighting, nutrition, health management, environmental management and record keeping on point should assist in the upkeep of your swine herd’s welfare and health. Consulting with local swine experts, veterinarians or Michigan State University Extension educators can provide valuable insights tailored to your specific circumstances.