Optimize the local climate and increase piglet survival

Optimize the local climate and increase piglet survival

An optimized local climate for piglets ensures a higher chance of survival. That is why it is essential for your production to learn how to optimize the local environment. A good climate protects the piglets from hypothermia – when piglets become hypothermic, they use their energy to keep warm rather than for growth, which is not optimal. A nice and warm piglet nest also leads the piglets away from the sow, reducing the risk of crushing. With a few simple steps you can optimize the piglet nest and increase the piglet’s chance of survival.
A piglet is born from a warm sow at 37 degrees and ends up in a stable at 21-22 degrees. The piglet is wet and a lot of evaporation takes place. As a result, the animal cools down and extra energy is needed to compensate for the cooling. A piglet is born with a limited amount of energy and that energy must be used to get to the sow’s udder, to get new energy, not to keep warm.

It can be difficult to provide a comfortable temperature for both piglet and sow, because the optimum temperature for the sow is about 17-18 degrees. The sow usually gets warm during farrowing, while the piglets get cold when they are just born. In this situation, of course, it is the sow that has to make compromises.

The figure below shows the recommended temperatures:
Ventilation type Production system 0-4 4-14 14->
Diffuse Ventilation In Sections, Slate Floor 20-22 18-20 17-18
Continuous Not in sections 19-20 19-20 19-20
Full slatted floor 22-23 20-22 20
To avoid a major compromise, some farms give the piglets extra heat just after birth; this can be done by applying straw or paper behind the sow and/or placing heat lamps behind the sow or near the sow’s udder.
The temperature in the farrowing house should be reduced by 0.5 degrees per week, assuming that the piglet nest is warm and attractive to the piglets.

The piglet nest
The piglet nest can be decorated in many ways and sometimes maintenance is postponed. Therefore, regular assessments of the piglet nest are important to identify any deficiencies.

High-end equipment for measuring temperature is not essential, but thermographic images can be a very interesting tool to show the different temperatures in the house. A laser thermometer should be part of the mandatory equipment because it is cheap and it is a very useful tool for measuring the ground temperature in the stable.

The way the piglets lie in the piglet nest tells you whether they are too cold or not. If the piglets are on top of each other, the piglet nest is probably too cold – they do this to keep warm and even then the piglets on the outside of the clump can still become hypothermic! The temperature is probably optimal when you see that the piglets are lying with the head out and in one layer. Remember that the temperature changes during the day, so this assessment should should be done in the morning, when the piglet nest is coolest.

Small and weak piglets have a higher heat requirement because they have more surface area in proportion to their body weight. You should always pay extra attention and ensure that the smallest piglets receive more heat.

Farrowing pens with fully slatted floors are often designed with a rubber mat or heating plate in the piglet nest, but drafts can arise from the manure gutter between the mat and the walls. If the cover leaks near the wall or around the heating lamps, all the warm air will be lost. This air is replaced by colder air from the entrance of the piglet nest.

Drafts in the piglet nest are unpleasant for the piglets – the moving air feels cold and the temperature in the piglet nest drops. Draft can be felt simply by placing your hand in the corner and edges of the piglet nest. The draft in the entrance can be discovered by lighting a lighter in the entrance; the small flame will bend towards the piglet nest if there is a draft.

The floor
When assessing piglet nests, it is important to check the floors. Piglet nests without underfloor heating must be fitted with a heat-insulating rubber mat. The insulating effect ensures that the heat does not pass through the mat, so that the piglets do not have to use their energy to heat the mat.

Air quality in the stable
Good air quality prevents respiratory infections. A good climate can be achieved by good air exchange in the house. CO 2 measurements can easily be made with a CO 2 meter on the top plate of the piglet nest. The best air has a CO 2 value lower than 1500 ppm. Good airflow in the house may require extra heat in the house, especially in winter and when the piglets are young.

Van Liefferinge’s study started with the Transient Receptor Potential Channels (TRP). These channels are found in nerve cells and transmit information in the body about pain, temperature and taste, among other things. However, recent research in rodents also found TRP channels in other cells, where they could be associated with the release of hormones that regulate gut function. From there came the idea to trigger the TRP channels with vegetable, bioactive substances that have a positive effect on the growth and health of piglets. Van Liefferinge hoped that the substances would cause a higher release of hormones, which in turn would have a positive effect on the digestion of proteins.
The doctoral student investigated the potential of a number of substances to positively influence intestinal function. Cinnamon aldehyde seemed the most promising. Van Liefferinge then developed cinnamic aldehyde in granular form. In an experiment, this was offered in two different doses to groups of newly weaned piglets. This showed that the substance had no major influence on the digestibility. The desired effect was therefore not achieved.
The Flemish Coordination Center for Manure Processing is an intermediary between the government, the manure processing sector and the knowledge institutions in Flanders. VCM stimulates and supports research into and the implementation of (1) sustainable manure treatment and processing in Flanders and

(2) the environmentally sound marketing of the end products and by-products. VCM is a point of contact and knowledge center for manure treatment and processing in Flanders and tries to act as a representative coordination center for the entire chain.
Manure processing in Flanders has fallen again
The results of the most recent survey show that 39.8 million kg of nitrogen from animal manure (including export) was processed in 2021. This corresponds to 4.3 million tons of manure. Compared to 2020, this is a decrease of 3.6 million kg of nitrogen or 0.4 million tons of manure. This decrease in manure processing in 2021 is due to a few companies that were (temporarily) not operational, There are currently 142 operational manure processing installations in Flanders, of which the data of 137 installations were included in the report.

Poultry manure continues to have the upper hand
88.9 percent of the 39.8 million kg of nitrogen processed in 2021 came from pig manure processing and export (17.1 million kg N or 43.0 percent) and poultry manure processing and export (18, 3 million kg N or 45.9 percent). Exports (in tonnage of raw manure) have increased for both types of manure. The processing (in tonnage) without export of both pig manure and poultry manure has decreased.

The processing and export of cattle and calf manure decreased by 8 percent compared to 2020, while the import of cattle manure has remained virtually the same (from 24 130 tons to 24 411 tons). The processing of the solid fraction of cattle manure has increased again by 24 percent, after a decrease of 77 percent in 2020. The export of raw cattle manure to the Netherlands increased by 32 percent. The processing of digestate has decreased by 22 percent. The processing and export of horse manure and the processing of mushroom compost both increased by 8 percent in 2021. This is again an increase after the larger drop in 2020 as a result of COVID-19 and linked to the reduced demand for mushrooms due to the catering closures.

Techniques in Flanders
In Flanders, biological manure processing in which nitrogen is removed from the thin fraction of pig manure, cattle manure and/or digestate is still the most commonly applied technique (111 of 137 installations). In 2021, even 1 new biological manure processing installation became operational. Organic manure processing is still a Best Available Technology (see BAT Manure Processing). The second most used technique in Flanders is biothermal drying (18 installations, of which 3 installations also dry and granulate the end product). This year a new category of techniques has been added, namely ‘total processing manure’.
In 2021, the largest amount of nitrogen (13.7 million kg N or 41.7% percent) was processed via the biological processing of the thin fraction of pig manure, cattle manure or digestate. Through the biothermal drying of mainly poultry manure, horse manure, the solid fraction of pig manure and the solid fraction of cattle manure, 11.7 million kg of N (35.5 percent) was processed in 2021.

The largest amount of phosphate (9.6 million kg P2O5 or 68 percent) is processed via the biothermal drying.

The survey shows that conventional manure processing techniques, namely manure separation followed by the biological processing of the liquid fraction in a ‘biology’ and the export of the biothermally dried solid fraction, remain crucial for judicious processing of the Flemish manure surplus.

Tail biting not only entails reduced animal welfare, but also an economic cost. The pig farmer therefore benefits from using preventive measures against tail biting on his farm, but this is not always easy. After all, the problem is exacerbated by stress and frustration and to counter this, adjustments must be made in various areas. The risk analysis therefore deals with various categories. For example, several questions are asked about pen enrichment, feed and water, space, thermal comfort and air quality, health and hygiene, and finally, animal-related indicators. The answer to each question leads to a code green, orange or red. The latter two codes also immediately form aspects that can be improved in the fight against tail biting.
When sows produce milk, they are more sensitive to heat stress. They take in more food to make milk, but in this process their body temperature rises. In heat, sows instinctively lower their feed intake to avoid too high a temperature, but this has a disastrous influence on milk production and therefore also the growth of the piglets. Scientists from Purdue University in the US state of Indiana investigated whether electronically controlled cooling pads can help combat this problem.

For the study, the researchers divided 24 sows and their litter into two groups. In the first group, electronically controlled cooling pads were used to counteract heat stress. The other sows were placed in a pen with a cooling pad that was not turned on. The temperature in the stables averaged 28°C at night and 33°C during the day. Each pen was equipped with a calorimeter to measure the total heat produced.
The cooling pads were effective in counteracting heat stress. Sows in pens with a working cushion had a lower body temperature. They took in as much feed as the other animals, yet their piglets had higher growth and weaning weights. This indicates that the cooling pads can be used to increase milk production in sows with heat stress.
Research was also conducted at the Canadian University of Guelph on the health and growth of piglets after weaning. Various feeds were tested before and after weaning, and their effect on gut health and nutrient absorption was examined.

Adapted feed for young piglets
In order to make the digestive tract of piglets accustomed to vegetable ingredients before weaning, pig farmers can also offer feeds adapted to very young piglets. In addition, the feed promotes growth in case the sow does not produce enough milk. This regularly occurs with the first litter and with large litters.
Research method
The piglets of 65 litters were offered food from the fifth day after birth. There were three different options, namely a commercial feed specifically for this target group, a liquid milk replacer and a granulated milk replacer. In addition, there was a control group that only received milk from the sow.

After weaning on day 21, the groups were redistributed and given either a corn and soy diet or an animal protein diet such as lactose, whey and fish meal. The latter ingredients are more expensive than vegetable proteins, but they are easier to digest. At different times after weaning, 2 piglets per litter were euthanized, after which the intestines and mucosa were examined.

Feeding trial results
The commercial pre-weaning diet, which was rich in starch, increased the absorption of nutrients in the gut in the first phase after weaning. After weaning, the animal protein feed provided the best intestinal health and digestibility. At the end of the weaning period, however, there was no longer any difference between the groups. The two feeds thus provided no lasting, positive effect.

Do you want to know more about the condition of the sows on your farm, how you can best assess them and how you can adjust the condition, then this project might be something for you!

When you participate, we do a one-off condition determination of a representative number of sows (of different gestation stages) using different methods. For those who want more, there is the possibility that we follow a number of sows from the 1st insemination until the moment of removal. We also estimate the relationship between the condition measurements on the one hand and the technical results and feed consumption on the other. For this it is necessary that you share the technical results and all information about feed consumption, feeding system, etc. Participation in the project is free.

A lot comes together in the intestines of the pig, literally and figuratively. The gut digests the food, but healthy gut is also the result of nutrition, health and management. “The body itself makes a subdivision of where the energy from the feed goes”, explains Anne de Bruijn (Technical Account Manager Nutrition Elanco). “At the top of the list is the brain, the vital organs and the immune system. Then energy goes to the digestion and the skin and bones. Only as 4th does energy go to muscle development. As a livestock farmer, you want as much energy as possible to remain for muscle development. It is therefore important to limit energy losses, and for this a healthy digestion and minimal triggers of the immune system are important.”

Nutrition and immune system

The immune system is not only triggered by bacteria and/or viruses. The immune system can also be triggered from food, says De Bruijn. “There is still quite a bit unknown about how gut health affects the general well-being of animals. Various discussions about animal welfare can be related to nutrition. Tail biting, just to name one.”

Much progress has been made in recent years. For example, the effect of ß-mannans (pronounced beta-mannans) has been investigated by Elanco. De Bruijn explains what they are. “ß-mannans are found in most vegetable raw materials, so also in the raw materials used for pig feed. Monogastrics such as pigs and poultry cannot break them down. The problem with these -mannans is that the immune system recognizes the -mannans as a foreign substance. ß-mannans elicit an immune response. This causes inflammation. This costs energy, because the priority is that the available energy first goes to the immune system.

Heavy losses
According to research by Elanco, a very small percentage of ß-mannans in a raw material is already harmful. “When 0.05 percent soluble -mannans are found in a ration, loss can already occur. The average energy loss as a result of ß-mannans is 3 percent of the total energy available in the ration, Elanco calculated. With the current raw material prices, this costs at least 15 euros per tonne. Which is really a shame and therefore preventable.”However, there is variation between companies, says De Bruijn. “One ration contains more ß-mannans than the other. Each resource contains a bandwidth of ß-mannans. On the basis of a ration we can estimate the content of ß-mannans in a ration. My experience is that broiler, piglet and pig feeds almost always contain too much -mannans, which makes it worth breaking them down

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