Don’t Let Cold Weather Freeze Sow Performance

Vern Pearson, Ph.D.

Swine Marketing Nutritionist

Cold temperatures can be problematic to long-term sow performance if not accounted for.

Fortunately, changes can be made before temperatures drop too low and sows are impacted. Two strategies for mitigating cold stress are facility air movement and temperature plus adjustments in sow rations.

Industry research shows that cold temperatures can cause sows to lose body condition which, in turn, can impact: fertility, milk production and piglet survival and growth performance1 – resulting in potential declines in sow longevity and parity structure in the herd.

Evaluate air temperature, air flow and sow rations in the facility to reduce the risk for cold stress in sows.

Recommended seasonal facility changes vary based on the type of facility.

Air temperature is not usually a severe challenge in curtain-sided or environmentally controlled gestation and farrowing barns, but that air flow can cause concern. 

In these facilities, adult sows typically provide enough heat to warm the barn. Evaluate mechanical ventilation, however. Be sure that mechanical ventilation, which is needed for airflow in the summer, does not create excessive air movement that could cause a ‘wind chill’ effect inside climate-controlled barns.

Both air temperature and air flow can be problematic in open-fronted and open-sided barns used to house sows. In these settings, additional bedding and management of drafts can help minimize chilling of animals.   

The most common impact of cold temperature stress is that sows do not consume enough feed in the winter to maintain their condition. Decreases in body condition score (BCS) below the ideal 3 on a 5-point scale can set sows back in long-term performance.

To keep sows at a BCS of 3, sows may require more feed during cold temperatures. As temperatures decrease, sows require more feed to regulate their cold body temperatures. Without added nutrients, the sow will allocate resources away from other body functions.

In addition to body condition maintenance and litter support, sows require energy to generate internal heat during cold periods. In fact, up to 25 percent more feed is required by sows during extremely cold conditions.2

Tips to help maintain consumption levels and meet this higher nutrient level include:

  • Provide fresh feed several times throughout the day to account for the sows’ instinct to consume more during cold spells.
  • Increase the content of high-fiber ingredients including: oats, barley, beet pulp, wheat bran, DDGS, alfalfa meal and soybean hulls. The bulk of these materials can help increase the amount of heat produced by the sow for digestion, slow the ration passage rate, dilute the energy concentration of the ration and often reduce overall ration costs.
  • Add fat to the ration to increase energy levels, based on the age, stage of gestation and BCS of the sows.
  • Feed according to stage. Generally, first-litter gilts have greater nutritional needs as they grow to their mature size. Late-gestation and lactating sows of all ages need more energy to support birth and weaning weights and milk production. And thin sows need additional energy to withstand cold conditions without sacrificing additional body condition.
  • Ensure that sows have access to fresh, unfrozen water at all times. Water helps regulate body temperature and can impact feed intake; determine a back-up system for heated water to account for power outages or frozen water lines.2
It’s a combination of management factors that helps sows thrive through winter. The correct combination of ration adjustments as well as air temperature and air flow management can help set sows up to perform long-term through the cold season.

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1Rozeboom, K.J., M. Todd See and W. Flowers. “Management practices to reduce the impact of seasonal infertility on sow herd productivity.” North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service. Publication No. ANS00-8138. http://www.ncsu.edu/project/swine_extension/publications/factsheets/813s.htm. 5 May 2013.
2“How should swine operations prepare for winter?” Mississippi State University Extensionhttp://msucares.com/livestock/swine/winter.html. 25 September 2013.