Some Like It Cool

As the land strug­gles to re­cover from its hottest sum­mer for decades, Liz Shank­land has ad­vice on pro­tect­ing your pigs when tem­per­a­tures soar

Country Smallholding - - Inside This Month - Pigs, by Liz Shank­land

What is it with the Brits and the weather? We com­plain con­stantly about it, if it’s too wet, too cold, or — as in re­cent months — too hot. The un­usu­ally hot weather be­gan as early as April in some places. Tem­per­a­tures in June and July, which reg­u­larly topped the 30°C mark, were ex­pe­ri­enced pretty much ev­ery­where and ri­valled those recorded dur­ing the UK’s long­est pre­vi­ous heat­wave in 1976.

Fol­low­ing on from one of the cold­est, snowiest and most dis­rup­tive starts to a year for decades, the Mediter­ranean-style sum­mer might have seemed like a bless­ing when it first ar­rived, but for any­one with land and live­stock it quickly turned into yet an­other bat­tle with the el­e­ments. Nat­u­ral wa­ter sources ran dry, crops were scorched and ru­ined, grass­land fires caused chaos and the sub­se­quent short­age of not just good graz­ing but also hay and bed­ding straw, left many farm­ers with­out vi­tal sup­plies and in­creas­ingly out of pocket as prices rock­eted.

As well as hav­ing fi­nan­cial im­pli­ca­tions, the pro­longed ex­treme weather has meant an on­go­ing strug­gle for those work­ing hard to keep an­i­mals com­fort­able and healthy. Even if the tem­per­a­tures cool over the com­ing weeks, me­te­o­rol­o­gists are adamant that hot spells like this will oc­cur again, so ev­ery­one should be think­ing now about ways of cop­ing next time around.

The im­por­tance of wa­ter

I was for­tu­nate that, when I moved to my sec­ond small­hold­ing, I had learned from past ex­pe­ri­ence the im­por­tance of main­tain­ing a good wa­ter sup­ply to the more re­mote pad­docks.

When I moved into my new place, I hired a team of builders to lay un­der­ground pipes from the farm­yard and up to the woods and in­stalled a se­ries of au­to­matic drinkers. I invested in a rooftop har­vest­ing sys­tem pow­ered by an elec­tric pump which pushed rain­wa­ter from col­lec­tion tanks up to the drinkers but, hav­ing farmed through pre­vi­ous droughts, I made sure that there was pro­vi­sion to switch over to mains wa­ter as soon as sup­plies be­gan to run low.

Ob­vi­ously, all an­i­mals need to drink, but with pigs the dan­gers of de­hy­dra­tion can­not be overem­pha­sised. More than any other species, the pig is acutely af­fected by wa­ter de­pri­va­tion, which can re­sult in salt poi­son­ing — a very real and po­ten­tially deadly con­di­tion. The pig’s nor­mal diet con­tains a small per­cent­age of salt (around 0.4% to 0.6%) but, if in­suf­fi­cient wa­ter is avail­able, even this small amount can be­come toxic and can kill within 48 hours.

The first sign that some­thing is wrong is usu­ally a pig go­ing off its food, so al­ways check if there is suf­fi­cient wa­ter if a pig does not want to eat. The con­di­tion wors­ens as salt ac­cu­mu­lates, lead­ing to clin­i­cal symp­toms such as stag­ger­ing and lack of bal­ance, nose-twitch­ing and con­vul­sions. At­tempt­ing to re­hy­drate at this late stage

will some­times make mat­ters worse, as wa­ter is drawn into the brain, caus­ing it to swell. If the signs of wa­ter de­pri­va­tion are recog­nised early enough, slow, care­ful re­hy­dra­tion via the rec­tum may be pos­si­ble, but this is best at­tempted by your vet.

Heat stress

Heat stress — of­ten called heat stroke — is an­other prob­lem of which pig keep­ers should be aware. All pigs need to stay cool, whether in­doors or out. Pigs are pretty poorly de­signed when it comes con­trol­ling their own body tem­per­a­ture; they can­not sweat in the same way other mam­mals do, only be­ing able to per­spire a lit­tle from the snout. If pigs are un­able to wet their skin, they can­not get cool. A fur­ther prob­lem is that pigs ac­tu­ally gen­er­ate a sig­nif­i­cant amount of heat: re­search sug­gests as much as a 1KW elec­tric fire.

If pigs are kept in­doors, good ven­ti­la­tion is es­sen­tial, while out­door pigs must have ad­e­quate shade and, where pos­si­ble, mud wal­lows. Heat stress shares some com­mon symp­toms with salt poi­son­ing. Pigs can be lethar­gic, off their food and they may stag­ger as if in­tox­i­cated. Other signs in­clude: Rapid pant­ing/faster than nor­mal re­s­pi­ra­tion In­creased wa­ter con­sump­tion (up to six times as much) Fre­quent uri­na­tion (caus­ing a loss of elec­trolytes) Gen­eral dis­com­fort and dis­tress Con­stant wal­low­ing Trem­bling Slower pulse rate Di­ar­rhoea (which means a fur­ther loss of vi­tal flu­ids) Some of the ef­fects on breed­ing stock may not be ob­vi­ous un­til a lit­ter is pro­duced — or lost. Oestrus can be dis­rupted, with sows and gilts hav­ing er­ratic sea­sons; fer­til­ity in both males and fe­males may be poor and qual­ity of boar se­men in par­tic­u­lar can be af­fected for sev­eral weeks; em­bryos may be re­ab­sorbed; boars may be lethar­gic and re­luc­tant to work; in lac­tat­ing sows, milk sup­ply may re­duce or stop com­pletely.

Think about ways in which you can adapt your fa­cil­i­ties to make life eas­ier — for your pigs and for your­self. Aside from the se­ri­ous health risks and dis­com­fort caused by over­heat­ing, it should also be re­mem­bered that lack of ap­petite can have a knock-on im­pact on far­row­ing rates and growth of pigs be­ing raised for meat.

Liz Shank­land is the au­thor of the Haynes Pig Man­ual and Haynes Small­hold­ing Man­ual. She teaches cour­ses in pig hus­bandry and small­hold­ing at Hum­ble by Na­ture in Mon­mouthshire (www.hum­ble­by­na­ture.com).

Keep­ing your pigs com­fort­able and well hy­drated is es­sen­tial

If pigs are un­able to wet their skin, they can­not get cool RIGHT This pig is en­joy­ing cool­ing off in a wal­low

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