Why cold weather may be better on welfare grounds

The return to colder weather could be a blessing for pig farmers says environmental specialist, Tim Miller.

Having been called out on “numerous occasions” to give advice on ventilation issues during this year’s hot summer and autumn weather, he has welcomed the more recent cold front, purely on pig welfare grounds.

“On some farms, with naturally-ventilated straw-based finishing houses, the hot weather resulted in an endless round of mucking out dirty bedding because the pigs’ dunging habits were reversed,” he explained. “This was because pigs were lying in the wetter, solid dunging passages to keep cool, and then dunging in the hotter, dry bedded area.

“Straw is a requirement for high-welfare contracts, of course. While this is good for the image of the pig industry, it is ironic that during the summer this is less welfare friendly and dirty pigs do not make a good impression. This is not often a problem with slatted buildings.”

Mr Miller, who works with ARM Buildings, added that there needs to be more research into this area.

“A number of farms have installed powered ventilation systems in an effort to improve the lying pattern but, in my experience, this has not been particularly successful,” he said.

“It may be that the use of less bedding in the summer, allowing pigs to lie on the cooler concrete, would help but this may not be viewed favourably by the inspectors. It also only takes one pig to dung in the wrong place for the problem to start.”

One solution that has worked on some farms has been the use of low-volume ventilation through polythene tubes, suspended over the lying area. These direct a gentle, but cooling draught down on the pigs so that they can lie and sleep in comfort. They are relatively inexpensive, can be adapted to most layouts and are normally operated by a single fan per tube.

“With the drive to more welfare-friendly systems and the growth in purpose-built straw-based system houses, this is not an issue that will go away,” said Mr Miller.

“There is nothing more demoralising for a stockperson than a back-breaking daily routine of manually scraping out a dirty bed, so more work needs to be done on factors influencing dunging patterns on straw-based buildings to allow pigs to remain clean.”

Headline image shows how low-volume ventilation via perforated polythene tubes can help maintain correct dunging patterns in straw-based buildings during hot weather

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