Newly weaned pigs have some special considerations when it comes to heating. In wean-to-finish facilities, groups are maintained from arrival, shortly after weaning, through to market weight in the same pens. Large rubber mats that cover an area of the fully slatted floors are often used in wean-to-finish pens during the first 5 to 6 weeks - essentially the nursery phase. Radiant heat brooders can provide supplemental heat to the area covered by the mats. However, it is important to appropriately manage the use of radiant heat brooders.
General recommendations are that newly weaned pigs should be housed at temperatures of 80 to 85 F. The period after weaning is critical as the pigs have an immature, developing immune system. There is a transition period as immunity from sow colostrum intake wanes and the pig’s own immune system takes over. The environmental conditions during this period can have a direct effect on the long-term health of pigs.
Rather than heating the entire barn to nursery temperatures, one strategy to ensure that pigs are housed at ideal temperatures is the use of radiant heat brooders. Because radiant heat provides heat directly to the animals, temperature measurement is not as straight forward as measuring the temperature of the mat, for example. Radiant heat transfer is affected by color. Whereas the black mat absorbs the majority of the radiant heat, the tan colored skin of most pigs will reflect a certain amount of the radiant energy.
The normal lying behavior of a group of pigs is stretched out, on their sides and neither piling nor avoiding contact. When pigs are too cold, they will pile on top of each other for warmth and when they are too hot, they will spread around the pen.
When the brooders are used appropriately, pigs will lay together, within the radiant heat area. The use of the mat space will eliminate drafts and maximize piglet comfort.
Alternatively, when the brooders are heating an area too intensely, the pigs may be found lying around the edges.
Providing the appropriate environmental conditions for young pigs can have a long-term impact on their health and productivity. General recommendations for setting the environmental conditions are a good starting point, but pig behavior will ultimately tell us if changes are needed.