Management over Medication: Wintering your small swine facility, By Casey Zangaro

Thermal regulation of swine is essential for winter months. It is critical to productivity and should be considered as we approach winter.

pig eating
Photo provided by iStock, credit Joseph Kocher

Winterizing a small swine farm is essential to ensure the health and well-being of your pigs during the cold winter months. Here are some critical steps to consider when preparing your small swine farm for winter:

Assess Your Infrastructure

Inspect barns, shelters and fencing for any damage or wear and tear. Repair or replace any damaged or compromised structures to provide adequate protection from the cold and wind. It is essential to replace or fix them quickly. This will help immensely with moisture and temperature variability within the facility. Create windbreaks around outdoor areas or pastures to shield pigs from cold winds. Natural features like tree lines or artificial structures can serve as windbreaks.

Provide Adequate Bedding

In facilities without supplemental heat, use deep bedding, such as straw or wood shavings, to provide insulation and warmth for the pigs. Keep the bedding dry and clean to prevent moisture-related health issues. The straw will retain heat much better than shavings but may be messier. On the flip side, sawdust or shavings are easier to keep clean but can have some respiratory effects on the animals if the size is small. However, having shavings on the floor and straw on top of the shaving may prevent detrimental respiratory effects while utilizing its absorption rate.

Heating and Ventilation

Fresh air in facilities is essential, even during the winter months. Ensure proper ventilation to prevent the buildup of moisture and ammonia gases. Air exchange is necessary for removing moisture and gases, which is equally vital in the winter.  A multi-speed fan can be set at a low setting in the winter and higher in the summer. A fan helps maintain good air quality. Install supplemental heating systems, if necessary, such as radiant heaters, heat mats, or heat lamps in farrowing areas or where young piglets are housed.

Stage of pig growth and the corresponding temperatures in Fahrenheit

Stage of Pig Growth (weights are approximate) Temperature (Degrees in Fahrenheit)
Pre-wean (birth to 15 pounds) 85 and up
Wean pig (15 pounds) 77-85
Nursery pig (45 pounds) 70-75
Grower (55 pounds) 68-75
Grower (100 pounds) 60-65
Finishing (200 pounds) 50-60
Gestation sow (350 pounds) 60-65
Lactating sow (350 pounds) 55-65

*Table adapted from Effect of Environment of Nutrient Requirements of Domestic Animals

Be cautious when using electrical heat to protect it from animals and other hazards that may cause overheating or fires. If commercial heaters or fans are used, routine maintenance should be kept, and having the motor enclosed should prevent dust and particles from accumulating onto it.

Feed and Water Management

Always provide pigs with access to clean water. Prevent water sources from freezing by using heated waterers or tank heaters. Frozen water must be thawed, or the ice layer broken for pigs to get their required daily water. Adjust diet to meet their increased energy requirements in colder weather; even if animals are fed a maintenance diet, they will need more feed to manage the energy it takes to keep their temperature regulated. If bad weather is pending, giving more feed than usual does not hurt. Showing more feed than usual does not break in case the temperatures drop significantly or chores get delayed. Ensure feed is stored in a dry, rodent-proof area to prevent spoilage and contamination.

Manure Storage

Be sure to keep the swine living space clean; the manure will give off ammonia, which is detrimental to the respiratory health of animals and increases moisture. If your facility is closed for temperature and humidity control, the ammonia smell will accumulate much quicker and cause respiratory distress in pigs. Keep the manure storage far enough away from the pig’s living space so that animals cannot track it back indoors for biosecurity purposes. Having a manure management plan for your operation that follows state guidance and is workable for your farm set-up is beneficial. Manure should be stored in an area that will not result in run-off. Composting manure using a ratio of 2 parts carbon source (sawdust, shavings, straw) to one part manure (feces and urine) will result in organic matter that can be recycled in other areas of your farm and eliminate concerns of run-off during the spring.

Health Monitoring

Your pigs should be observed daily. Winter health checks include vigilance for signs of cold stress, such as shivering, huddling or decreased feed intake. Keep track of coughing and respiratory distress as varied moisture levels in enclosed spaces increase respiratory diseases. Biosecurity protocols are essential for winter due to pig’s high incidence of respiratory illnesses. Parasitic infections can also happen during winter, and a deworming program should be followed.  Also, some viruses survive in the winter months. Ensure that the clothes and boots you wear are the same clothing you would wear while visiting other farms. Do not share farm tools and equipment with other farms unless they can be cleaned and dried sufficiently before returning to your farms.

Emergency Preparedness

Have backup generators or alarms in case of power outages. Plan for addressing emergencies, such as extreme cold snaps or severe weather events, by having extra bedding, supplemental heat sources, feed, and medications. Develop a plan for snow removal to keep access roads and pathways clear for farm operations and emergency access.

Remember that winterizing your swine farm may require an initial investment in equipment and infrastructure. Still, it can save you money by reducing pig health issues and ensuring optimal growth rates during the winter season. Regular maintenance and monitoring throughout the winter are also critical to success.