The golden rules: fresh feed, fresh water, warm and dry place to live and sleep

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Raising pigs can become complex with many variations in daily tasks and the way animals performed. The goal of each pig farm employee is to take care of animals and to maximize efficiencies by providing the three basics: provide to animals clean, fresh feed. Provide clean, fresh water. Provide a clea, warm, dry, draft free place to live and sleep. The one constant no matter where you are is simply following the Three Basics.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the animals we take care for could care for their own needs? They could turn on a feed line when they are hungry, turn on a fan when they’re warm or a heater when they’re cold. But of course, that is not the case. When working with all livestock, their care is completely up to us.
In an earlier job for me, employees were taught what might be considered the Golden Rule of caring for our pigs, or livestock in general. Our goal: to follow this rule on a daily basis.


The goal of each employees is to take proper care of all animals in your care and to maximize efficiencies by providing the Three Basics:

  1. Provide clean, fresh feed.
  2. Provide clean, fresh water.
  3. Provide a clean, warm, dry, draft free place to live and sleep.

As you read this, you’ll see that many of the issues you face each day, barring disease, can be traced back to a failure to fully apply one of the three basics. During training sessions, I will ask trainees to repeat the Three Basics back to me. Many times I get “clean fresh feed, clean fresh water, etc. They are leaving out one important word, PROVIDE. You can have fresh feed in the bin, but if the feed system is off or clogged, you are not providing it and it is doing no good. If you have fresh water to the room but the valve is turned off, you are not providing clean, fresh water.

Let’s explore each of the Three Basics individually.

Provide clean, fresh feed:

You might think providing feed is a given; but is it fresh. This basic item can be broken into two points, 1) providing feed, and 2) making sure it is fresh.
When you sit down to eat, you won’t drink a glass of milk that is spoiled, you won’t eat a bowl of cereal that has been sitting in milk for the last two hours, you won’t eat a piece of fruit that is over-ripe to the point of decaying.

You like to enjoy fresh food at every meal and the animals you are responsible for have and require the same thing.
The importance for providing clean, fresh feed of course is related to the performance of the animals under your care and the efficiency and income for your farm.

  • Gestating sows will refuse feed that is contaminated which can result in lower farrow rates and potentially lower total born and live born. The overall throughput of your farm will be negatively affected and reduce your farms income.
  • Lactating sows will also refuse feed that is contaminated. When lactating sows won’t eat, that reduces their milk output which means she will have trouble nursing her piglets. If the piglets do not get the nourishment they need, they won’t grow and there is the potential for a higher pre-wean mortality. Again, the overall throughput of your farm will be negatively affected and reduce your farms income.
  • When nursery/finisher animals refuse feed, feed conversion will increase and daily gain will decrease. Both will affect your cost of production and the profitability of your farm will suffer.

Some areas to consider and watch closely when providing clean fresh feed:

  • Feed bins – Inspect your feed bins closely to make sure they are always in good repair. Holes in the feed bins can allow water in which will cause moldy feed. Your animals will likely refuse to eat or only eat a limited amount, both causing your feed conversion go up and your daily gain to go down. If you have a bin that leaks, it needs cleaned and repaired or replaced as soon as possible.
  • Feed deliveries – Make sure the feed in your bin is always fresh. Feed deliveries should provide enough feed for no more than 7 days. After that, feed can become stale and your animals may limit their feed intake which will result in your feed conversion going up and your daily gain going down.
  • While you are at your feed bins, always make sure the bin pads are clean from feed spills. Feed spills draw rodents and bird which can be vectors for disease. You could possibly drag a disease like TGE into your barn. The losses from mortality can be great which will affect the profitability of your farm.
  • Out of Feed Events – Out of feed events can happen for several reasons. The feed truck can be late in arriving, you ran out of feed before your scheduled delivery, your feed system was broken, or individual feeders can become plugged from improper adjustment or getting water or urine in the feed bowl.

Out of feed events can happen and at times be beyond your control. Research has shown that pigs can compensate for short term out of feed events resulting in little, if any, reduction in performance.
Several out of feed events or long term feed events greater than 24 hours, can lead to reduced average daily gain, increase feed conversion, and can potentially lead to increased mortality due to ulcers. The key is to find and correct the out of feed event quickly, identify the cause, and put in place procedures to minimize the potential for it to happen again.

Provide clean, fresh water:

Water for animals is often the most overlooked essential nutrient but it is one of the most important essential nutrients. It must be of good quality (fit for consumption) and be readily available. Water is involved in metabolism processes, nutrient transport, and body temperature regulation.
For the growing pigs, feed intake and growth performance are strongly correlated with water intake. Anything that decreases or inhibits water intake will result in reduced performance.
Lactating sows require a lot of water in order to produce milk. If water is limited, sows will have lower milk production and you may see more sows failing to nurse their litter, which will require you to find other sows to nurse their litter or face a higher pre-wean mortality.

Facts about water intake:

The recommended guideline for minimum flow rates at the various stages of production are:

StageMinimum Water Nipple Flow Rate
Gestation sow1.9 liters/minute (0.50 gallons/minute). A gestating sow will drink up to 23 liters/day (6 gallons/day)
Lactation sow1.9 liters/minute (0.50 gallons/minute. Towards the end of the lactation period, a sow will drink 45+ liters/day (12+ gallons/day)
Nursery0.5 liters/minute (0.13 gallons/minute)
Finishing1.0 liters/minute (0.25 gallons/minute)

What time of day do animals drink most? Research has shown:

Nursery Animals
Between 8:30 AM and 5:00 PM
Finishing Animals
Between 5:00 AM and 11:00 AM
Between 3:00 PM and 9:00 PM

Nipple Recommendations:

Water nipple height must be adjusted weekly as animals grow to make it easier for the animals to drink properly. The proper height of the water nipple is to have it at shoulder height of the smallest animal in the pen. The smallest animal can then drink easily and larger animals should have no problem.

For growing pigs, there are several types of water systems; water nipples attached to penning, swinging water nipples located in the middle of the pen, water bowls attached to penning, or water nipples placed in the bowl of a feeder; each having there advantages,. Water should be placed near the feeder (3 to 6 feet) to reduce the walking distance between the feeder and the water nipple.

General industry recommendations are one water nipple/15 pigs for growing pigs.

Provide a warm, dry, and draft free place to live and sleep:

As mentioned in the beginning of this paper, the animals under your care rely on you to provide the correct environment. Without that, production efficiencies may suffer which will lead to an economic loss. There are two key points to providing the correct environment, warm and dry/draft free.

  1. Warm:

To keep your production efficiencies to be at an adequate level, your animals need to be kept at a comfortable temperature that promotes good growth and feed conversion, and minimizes cull and deaths percentages. This most challenging area is in farrowing with lactating sow preferring a much cooler than a nursing piglet.  
For maximum efficiency, animals must be kept as comfortable as possible. Environmental requirements are critical for confined animals. The temperature in the facilities must be maintained at the Desired Room Temperature (DRT).

The temperature when an animal stops utilizing feed energy for reproduction, growth and maintenance and begins using it for the metabolic processes to keep warm or cool is called the critical temperature. The critical temperature varies by size and age of the animals.

You should be aware of two critical temperature zones:

Upper Critical Temperature:
This temperature is above the animal’s comfort zone. The pig must adjust its normal body functions.

  • A pig will reduce its feed intake to avoid excess heat production.
  • This is a major cause of a decline in feed consumption during the summer.
  • When animals become hot, they consume less feed in an effort to minimize heat production from food digestion.
  • Total feed efficiency will be impacted.
  • Piglet health and mortality may also be negatively affected.

Lower Critical Temperature:
This temperature is below the animal’s comfort zone. The pig must adjust its normal body functions.

  • A pig eats more feed in an effort to heat itself by utilizing the energy in feed.
  • Total feed efficiency will be impacted.
  • Piglet health and mortality may be negatively affected.
  • Feed efficiency and growth rate are negatively affected by temperatures above or below the animal’s comfort zone.
  • Temperatures below the comfort zone tend to affect growth and feed efficiency quicker than above the comfort zone.
  • Mortality can also increase.

The chart below is a good visual aide to help you understand the critical temperature zones.

Now that you understand critical temperatures and the need to stay within the comfort zone, the following chart shows recommended desired room temperatures (DRT’s) for the various production areas. Depending on the facility design, number of animals per pen, age and size of animals, and floor type, the DRT may vary. However, bottom line, the animals must be comfortable to capture their true potential.

OPTIMUM TEMPERATURESLower Critical TemperatureOptimum TemperatureUpper Critical Temperature
Newborn35.0 ⁰C (95 ⁰F)36.7 ⁰C (98 ⁰F)40.6 ⁰C (105 ⁰F)
Piglet28.9 ⁰C (83⁰F)30.0⁰C (86 ⁰F)35.0⁰C (95 ⁰F)
20 kg (44 lbs)17.8 ⁰C (64 ⁰F)23.9 ⁰C (75 ⁰F)25.0 ⁰C (77 ⁰F)
60 kg (132 lbs) 15.0⁰C (59 ⁰F)20.0⁰C (68 ⁰F)22.0⁰C (72 ⁰F)
100+ kg (200+ lbs) 13.9 ⁰C (57 ⁰F)18.3 ⁰C (65 ⁰F)21.0 ⁰C (70 ⁰F)
Pregnant sow17.8 ⁰C (64 ⁰F)18.3 ⁰C (65 ⁰F)20.0⁰C (68 ⁰F)
Lactating Sow12.8 ⁰C (55⁰F)15.5 ⁰C (60 ⁰F)23.3 ⁰C (74 ⁰F)

The easiest way to identify if animals are comfortable is a visual appraisal of how the animals are acting. Pigs are highly social animals and when they sleep, they like to be close to one another and touching. If the animals are piling on top of each other, they are telling you that they are too cold and not in the Comfort Zone. Check the chart above to make sure you are not in the Lower Critical Temperature. If the animals are spread far apart and maybe panting, they are telling you they are too hot. Check the chart above to make sure you are not in the Upper Critical Temperature.

2. Dry and Draft Free Place to Live and Sleep:

Along with having the proper temperatures for your animals, you must also have the proper airspeed. It is possible to have the proper temperature in a barn, but an excessive amount of airspeed, which will make the animals feel cold.

Effective Environmental Temperature (EET) is the temperature a pig actually feels. For example, if a room has an actual temperature of 21ᵒC (70ᵒF) and the animals are wet and the fans are running, the temperature the animals actually feel (EET) could be 15.6ᵒC (60ᵒF). If the animal’s optimum temperature is 21ᵒC (70ᵒF), the pig will be too cold with the EET being 15.6ᵒC (60ᵒF).
Another good example is for people, if it is 32ᵒC (90ᵒF) outside and you stand under a tree in the shade, your EET might now be 26.7ᵒC (80ᵒF), much cooler and comfortable.

Several items in a pig’s environment can change the temperature a pig feels (EET). These items increase or decrease the heat loss or gain.
Some of the variables considered are:

  • Floor type and bedding.
  • Air speed.
  • Surface temperature of walls.
  • Wetness of animals or floor and percent humidity.

Even though the actual room temperature is good, what the animal feels might be outside its comfort zone an in a zone of production risk. The pig would be stressed and feed consumption and growth rate would be negatively affected in order to deal with its environment.

Most facilities today utilize power ventilation. There are six purposes for having a ventilation system in confinement buildings:

  • Provide oxygen
  • Remove gases and odors
  • Remove dust particles
  • Remove moisture
  • Control room temperature
  • Provide a good working environment

Power ventilation has had a great and positive affect on our industry, but it can affect you negatively if it is not managed correctly. If your ventilation is not properly doing one or more of these items, the performance of the animals will be reduced.

Four Ways Animals Lose Heat:
Animals can lose heat in many ways. At times, this can have a negative effect or a positive effect on their performance, depending on the season and their environment. Being able to diffuse heat in the summer can have a positive effect on performance. Losing heat in winter months will have a negative effect on performance. Controlling these heat loss events in all seasons and climates is important to the success of your farm.
Animals can lose heat in four different ways. They are:

  1. Convection – 40%
    • Heat loss from the pig due to air in close vicinity of the skin being warmed, removed, and replaced by colder air.
    • The amount of heat loss by convection depends on the air temperature, air speed, and skin temperature.
  2. Radiation – 30%
    • The transfer of heat from one object to another, with no physical contact involved. For example, the sun transfers heat to the earth through radiation.
    • Proper building insulation will reduce radiation heat loss. With proper insulation, surface temperatures will not be greatly different from the inside air temperature so radiation will be at a minimum.
  3. Evaporative – 17%
    • Evaporation of moisture from the skin and normal respiration results in heat loss.
    • Evaporative heat loss is beneficial during warm summer months by moistening the pig’s skin slightly with water and moving more air over the animals.
  4. Conduction – 13%
    • Heat is lost from the body when it makes contact with a cooler surface.
    • Remembered that a pig spends approximately 80% of its time lying down. If the floor is cold, the animals will be cold.

Raising pigs can become complex with many variations in daily tasks and the way they are performed between companies, between farms, and between regions of the world. The one constant no matter where you are is simply following the Three Basics. Paying attention to that golden rule will be the foundation of your success in the swine industry, no matter where you are.

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