Best sow-cooling strategies from North Carolina

Sow farms struggling to breed and farrow during hot, humid weather can pick up some tips from North Carolina, where this type of weather hangs around a long time.

“We have a big corner on heat and humidity with 40 to 45 days with the heat index above 100°,” reported Cary Sexton, DVM, veterinarian with Four Star Veterinary Service in Kinston, North Carolina. “We definitely have to employ sow-cooling strategies.”

After many years of experience, he has seen what works best to keep sows productive through hot weather.

Cooling sow in farrowing

The top of the line for cooling sows in farrowing are cool cells, according to Sexton. Compared to drippers, which are the next best option, cells aren’t as likely to plug and do not drip water on the pigs.

“The problem is cool cells affect ventilation efficiency and restrict air flow,” he said. “Some farms have gone in and put in drippers with the cool cells as an additional stage. The cool cells should stage in after the last fans are running.

“If the temperature continues to rise, the drippers will turn on to get a small portion of each sow wet and then shut off, leading to a more local evaporative cooling effect. But it all needs to be timed.”

Drippers in farrowing must be monitored because excess moisture can cause shoulder sores. Sexton recommends positioning a dripper between the sow’s ears and shoulders to prevent udder or shoulder problems. The extra moisture from drippers can also lead to diarrhea in piglets.

But overall, cool cells with timed drippers work. “We will see 90° to 95° in buildings on high-humidity days,” he said. “This is when drippers on the farrowing sows do a good job. We’ve seen how the sows’ respiratory patterns decrease with the drippers and cool cells running in tandem, and we don’t see as dramatic a drop in lactation feed intake.”

Focus on sow condition

Most gestation units among Sexton’s clients already use intensive management to keep sows in good condition. But some units have experienced problems getting the sows bred back during and following the hottest parts of the summer.

“In previous summers, some units had increased wean-to-first-service intervals because the sows wouldn’t eat in lactation,” Sexton explained. “So, we now put more effort into sow conditioning in the months leading into summer.”

Starting in the spring, sow farms focus on getting sows in proper condition to handle the hottest parts of the summer.

“We use a body-condition sow caliper to consistently evaluate body condition and feed the amount needed to achieve a condition score of 3 in a 30- to 60-day time period,” he explained.

“We have more problems with heavier sows. These sows have more insulation and hold more of their heat in the summer, in combination with the fact that their body temperature goes up as they eat.”

Feeding strategies

Lactation feed-time strategies help. “Get the sows fed early in the morning and fed last in the afternoon so they are eating during cooler times are top priorities,” he said.

This feed regimen is also practiced on farms that utilize automatic feed systems in farrowing. These farms also drop additional feed to sows that have cleaned up since their last feeding when employees walk through the rooms, Sexton explained. These same farms also offer smaller, more frequent meals up to five times a day.

The automatic feed technology also allows the sows to be fed consistently, even on weekends which also is a huge advantage due to labor availability on weekend shifts, he added.

Room temperatures in gestation and farrowing will affect how sows eat. Sexton recommends setting the temperatures to favor the sow’s comfort. Heat lamps or pads provide supplemental, zone heating to warm piglets without affecting the sows. These items must be removed as soon as piglets can maintain their own body temperatures.

He suggests tying these heat sources into the ventilation system to allow adjustment to weather events like an afternoon thunderstorm, which dramatically changes the temperature profile of farrowing rooms.

“Without connecting heat to ventilation, the heat source may not return to full power and respond to the pigs’ need for supplemental heat, leading to increased piglet mortality or illness,” Sexton added.

Be attentive to sows

Overall, the best strategy is to “be very attentive to your sows,” Sexton concluded. “When you have things occur, ask yourself what strategies and technology do I have available for the overall comfort of that sow? And remember for sows not acclimated to the heat and humidity, hot and humid weather can be as tough if not tougher on them than the workers.”




Raising pigs without antibiotics offers niche market but with limitations



Markets for pork produced without antibiotics continue to grow. But this method of production is not for every farm, cautions Michael Pierdon, VMD, veterinarian with Four Star Veterinary Service, Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania.

“A lot of clients do ask questions about it…They see it as a business opportunity,” Pierdon said. “But first of all, is your herd really a good candidate? Meaning, what’s your disease profile? Is your current pig-farm setup and pig flow appropriate for antibiotic free or would you have to consider reworking that in order to have good success?”

Additional costs

Producers interested in this method of pork production should expect higher production costs.

“Often producers ask about it because they’ve been offered more money for their pigs if they create antibiotic-free pigs,” Pierdon said. “Creating those pigs will also cost more money because there’s more cost in vaccines, facilities, some inefficiencies in flow, and other demands nutritionally that are going to be required.”

In some cases, the expected premium evaporates with the higher cost of production.

Being profitable

Pierdon works with many producers who stay profitable in this niche market. But it’s not just about profits for them.

“Especially for smaller operations and owner/operators, this is a niche that they can get into that finds them a home in the modern industry,” he explained. “They’re able to do something that may be a little more intensive than the bigger players.”

The keys to success start with what Pierdon calls a “multi-faceted approach,” starting with good, healthy breeding stock to minimize endemic disease. This helps baby pigs start healthy, free of disease and able to fight off minor health challenges on their own.

The proper environment and management also are required to keep the pigs as healthy as possible throughout their lives. Pierdon maintains that all-in, all-out production gives producers an edge when antibiotics are not available.

“All-in, all-out gives you the ability to eradicate disease when it happens,” he explained. “Sometime the animals will become sick, and when you have all-in, all-out, you never have to have the disease for more than one group of pigs.”

Ventilation and temperature controls must be correct. Feed and water systems must work properly.

“All those things contribute to animal health by increasing or decreasing stress,” Pierdon said. “Managing the environment really helps, especially with what I call the standard bacterial diseases…If you can put pigs in the right environment, they have a lot better chance of resisting those challenges.”

Vaccinations important

Producers raising pigs without antibiotics need vaccinations to control many disease challenges or pathogens.

“We probably use more vaccine technology in antibiotic-free production because that’s one of the biggest tools in the toolbox,” Pierdon said. “And without the ability to treat disease when it occurs, prevention is just a lot more important.

“For instance, ileitis is a disease that can be controlled effectively through medication in the feed in commercial flows,” he continued. “But in antibiotic-free production, you’ve really got to use vaccines to control it.”

Growing demand

Pierdon expects consumer demand for all types of pork production without the use of antibiotics will continue to grow. These include niche markets that also add housing, nutritional and management restrictions.

“Increasingly, big purchasers of commercial pork in the US will want [pork] to be produced without antibiotics,” he said. “As we transition more and more of our commercial industry today to that, we need to embrace and develop new technologies that will allow us to manage the health of the animals without antibiotics.”


COVID-19 lesson for hog farms: Tighten up basic biosecurity

The COVID-19 outbreak reinforces what veterinarians and pork producers already know — biosecurity protocols control disease.

“I think COVID-19 has given everyone a good refresher on basic biosecurity practices,” said Brad Schmitt, DVM, Four Star Veterinary Service. “We need to keep this momentum going in the fight against African swine fever and other viruses like PRRS (porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome) and PED (porcine epidemic diarrhea).”

As a reminder, Schmitt offers suggestions to help producers tighten up biosecurity in their hog units, from people and vehicle traffic to room biosecurity.

Premise-level biosecurity

Biosecurity at the premise level requires all vehicles entering the farm to be washed and cleaned. This includes cleaning the interior of the vehicles. Wipes containing citric acid are recommended for cleaning steering wheels, radios, leather and vinyl seats, and other high-touch areas. A phenol-based spray product works well for disinfecting other interior areas of vehicles including cloth seats.

“A great habit is to use the aerosol spray to hit your boots when entering and exiting vehicles,” said Ryan Pusey, animal protein account manager, Neogen. “Hand sanitizer also should be used when entering and exiting vehicles. A foaming hand sanitizer will last longer and provide better coverage than a gel sanitizer.”

All people including personnel entering the facility must, at a minimum, cross a clean-dirty line indicating the boundary of the hog facility. Anything outside of the line is “dirty” and could contain potential pathogens.

The simplest indication of a clean-dirty line is an entry with a physical barrier such as a bench. People leave their personal items and shoes on one side and rotate to the other side where they put on clean boots.

When entering and exiting any facility, boots should be treated with the aerosol spray and a foaming hand sanitizer used.

Many facilities require a shower when crossing over the clean-dirty line to enter the barn. All personal belongings are kept on the outside of the shower by the entry. Once through the shower, clothing and boots are available for the clean side where the hogs are housed.

“Once we master premise-level biosecurity, then we hone in on room-level biosecurity,” Schmitt said. “The goal here is to reduce the spread of enteric pathogens that cause piglet scours.”

Boot baths

Boot baths prevent tracking in pathogens from one room to another. The bath must be kept clean and filled with disinfectant.

“Keep in mind that manure should be washed from boots before using the boot bath because you can’t effectively disinfect surfaces when organic matter is present,” Schmitt said.

An iodine-based product is available for boot baths that remains viable with up to 50% organic matter. Some glutaraldehyde products are effective for boot baths as well, according to Pusey.

Crate and pen cleaning

“The key to cleaning pens is to initially use a cleaner to break down organic matter on the surface,” Pusey said. “Any organic matter must be removed first to get a proper disinfection.”

After using a cleaner and power washing thoroughly under crates and feeders, apply a good quat/glut disinfectant (a mixture of quaternary ammonium and glutaraldehyde), offering a wide spectrum of biocidal activity. Use at label rate and contact times.

In between groups of pigs, biofilms harboring disease and bacteria can grow inside water lines. A hydroperoxide product with peracetic acid will descale and clean the pipes. A chlorine dioxide water treatment system will consistently keep the water lines clean.

“Descaling is important year-round but especially important in hot, humid weather when coccidiosis ramps up,” he added.

After cleaning and disinfecting, allow the room, crates and pens to fully dry before restocking. This allows the desiccation of any remaining bacteria.

Sow washing

“If you are going to the trouble of cleaning and disinfecting farrowing crates, there’s no sense in introducing pigs to dirty sows,” Schmitt said. “Mouth-to-skin contact happens immediately after birth, and washing sows reduces the transfer of E. coli and other enteric pathogens to newborn pigs.”

Iodine-based products are gentle on skin and decrease pathogen transfer to pigs, reducing the incidence of scouring.

Control rodents, insects

Rodent and insect control is critical. “Rodents and insects that inhabit manure pits can act as mechanical vectors to re-infect sows and pigs,” Schmitt said. “Studies have shown that PED and PRRS can both survive in manure slurry for an extended period of time. This is troublesome because rodents may travel back and forth from the manure pit to feeders.”

Rodent control starts with rodenticides used in a rotation of different active ingredients throughout the year. Pusey recommends using two rodenticides with different active ingredients that are anticoagulants and one rodenticide with an active ingredient that is a non-anticoagulant. This rotation will prevent the rodent population from building a resistance to the products.

“For seasonal use, strategize with your veterinarian because some products are better for mice versus rats and vice versa,” Schmitt added.

Cockroach and insect control are also important because they act as mechanical vectors of disease too. They bring disease onto a farm and spread it around.

And last, biosecurity strategies vary greatly between farms depending on the production stage, location and risk tolerance. For help developing a biosecurity program, contact your Four Star Veterinary Service veterinarian.