Don’t Let Cold Weather Stress Wean-to-Finish Pigs

Review facilities, ventilation and biosecurity protocols before winter.

Seasonal weather changes impact pig performance. It is ideal to revisit protocols for cold weather pig care, ventilation and health care protocols before winter starts. Being prepared and addressing weather changes will keep pigs comfortable and their performance on track.

Cold weather early pig care

Chilled piglets may suffer from reduced feed intake, slower growth or poor feed efficiency. They can also be more susceptible to illnesses such as scours or pneumonia and have higher mortality rates or an increase in vices.

Cold weather also increases the likelihood of chilled pigs during transport and upon arrival. Review the following list to help pigs transition into wean-to-finish barns and get off to a good start.

  • Heater maintenance: Ensure heater maintenance is complete and review the pre-heating plan so the room – including the floors and mats – will be warm and dry before the pigs arrive. Room temperature should be 75 to 85°F (24 to 29°C), depending on barn design and equipment. Plan for at least four to six hours of pre-heating to achieve the goal temperature for flooring and equipment.
  • Comfort zone tools: Check for air leaks or drafts in and around pens. Review brooder heat output and pattern. Confirm mat availability and condition. The target area is 0.4 ft2 (0.04 m2) per pig of mat or comfort zone space 95°F (35°C) directly below the brooder.
  • Water: Check pipe insulation and perform a line flush to clear the lines of any buildup to ensure a continuous water supply. Check and adjust water pressure and flow rates to avoid wet floors and mats that can chill pigs. Target a flow rate of 1 L/minute with a maximum pressure of 20 psi.
  • Placement plan: Review and adjust placement plans according to weaning weight and the number of pigs received. Maintaining room temperature is more challenging in winter than summer; provide additional comfort zone space per pig in hospital pens and pens for small or challenged pigs. Consider extending the comfort zone longer than 21 days, depending on pig weight and temperature conditions.
  • People: Prepare your team by going over early pig care plans and procedures, highlighting any cold season adjustments. Emphasize how the thermal environment affects the placement plan, comfort zone, stimulating early feed and water intake, gruel feeding, etc.
Winter ventilation for wean-to-finish pigs

Ventilation adjustment is one of the most important tasks to complete before the cold weather starts. It is essential to have a correct balance between air quality and pig comfort. Too much cold incoming air could reduce pig activity, decrease feed intake, and potentially trigger health challenges and higher energy costs.

  • Re-calculate and verify minimum ventilation settings: For minimum calculations: Take the number of pigs in the air space and multiply it by the cubic foot per minute needs (CFM). For example: 1,250 pigs/barn x 2 CFM/weaned pig = 2,500 CFM needed during minimum ventilation. A more detailed table is available in the PIC Wean-to-Finish Manual.
  • Adjust temperature curve and bandwidth in the controller: Set point should be 1° to 2°F (0.5 to 1°C) above desired room temperature (DRT) in the winter months. Set heaters to turn ON 3°F (1.5°C) below set point and shut OFF 2°F (1°C) below set point. Ensure fans do not start shortly after the heater turns off. Refer to PIC’s Temperature Curve Table and bandwidth adjustments for each stage in the PIC Wean-to-Finish Guidelines.
  • Check and clean soffits and inlets: Clean soffits and remove dust, debris, and cobwebs for an unobstructed flow. Obstructed flow causes air recirculation, rising humidity and gas levels. Soffits must have a minimum of two times the surface area of the max inlet opening area. For example: 65ft2 (6 m2) of fully opened inlet area × 2 = 130 ft2 (12 m2) of soffit area opening. Open inlets greater than 0.5 inches (1.3 cm) during minimum ventilation to lessen the risk of inlets freezing shut.
  • Patch holes and add insulation: Air leaks cause static pressure loss, challenging the correct air mixing and drafts. Insulation reduces temperature changes and may reduce energy costs.
  • Train staff to monitor and achieve airspeed and humidity goals: Define, measure, and record airspeed and humidity. As a reference, it’s ideal to have 600 to 800 feet per minute of airspeed at the inlet and less than 65% humidity.
Pig health in cold weather

Winter increases the risk of disease introduction to farms. Review the farm or system procedures and train staff to reduce
health risks from external threats and internal challenges.

  • Biosecurity: Double-check all basic procedures – personnel farm entry, boot bench, showers, supplies entry, disinfection chambers, transport, and other supply delivery methods. Tighten growing gilts (GDU) biosecurity to keep future gilts free of diseases, to protect the sow herd.
  • Disease surveillance and monitoring: Implement or increase disease surveillance for high-risk pathogens in the area/region. Early detection of pathogen introduction could be the difference between a large or small loss of productivity or profitability. Monitor pigs for signs of disease.
  • Staff training: Wean-to-finish pig placement plans should be reviewed and adjusted to achieve quality weaned pigs. For example, set DRT according to weaned weight and pig health status. Communication between slat-level personnel and management is critical for procedures to be executed correctly. Early sick pig identification and timely and correct treatment application are vital to reduce losses.
  • Protocol for PRRSV or other viral diseases in wean-to-finish sites: Prepare an alternative placement plan for health-challenged pigs, including alternative temperature settings (warmer rooms). Consider having pig performance water additives on hand if receiving health-challenged pigs. Allocate contingency cleaning and disinfection equipment and avoid moving it from disease-challenged unstable farms to clean farms.
  • Review abnormal animal behavior procedures and take additional precautions: Sick and highly stressed pigs are a classic recipe for abnormal pig behavior. Control stocking density, water and feed availability, and provide proper ventilation and temperature in the barn to mitigate abnormal behavior. If working with disease-challenged pigs, make sure to control secondary bacterial infections to minimize disease and stress.

For detailed guidelines for other aspects of wean-to-finish pig care and management, view the PIC Wean-to-Finish Manual.