In times of rising energy prices, there is a strong temptation to reduce costs by cutting back on energy input costs. Managers are inclined to use less heat lamps, run barns cooler, not preheat rooms as early as they used to, and to reduce fan ventilation rates.
To understand the weaknesses in this reasoning it is worthwhile to examine a piglet in a litter to see where the heat it produces, if it has to, is used or lost.
The lower critical temperature for a newborn pig is about 95ºF or 35ºC. This means that when the factors such as body size, amount of body fat used as insulation, group size and nutrient uptake are considered, a piglet generally has to produce heat to stay warm if the temperature is below 95ºF or 35ºC. Heat is lost in other ways as well. Evaporation from the skin and losses through respiration account for 10% of its heat loss. In addition, up to 15% of the piglets heat loss can be to the floor. It is important to keep in mind that the type of flooring material affects the heat loss from the animal as well.
So far we have accounted for about 25% of the heat loss from the piglet. This leaves radiation and convection as the major loss areas and together they account for up to 75% of a piglet's heat loss. The radiant heat a piglet loses is most likely to go into walls both the farrowing crate walls and building walls, and to the ceiling of the building. Heat losses of the convection type are affected by factors such as air temperature and air speed.
What is the best management strategy? Energy Costs? Remember energy costs are fairly consistent, whether the source is oil, electric or propane. Natural gas may be available in some locations at better prices, but not everyone has access to it.
The conclusion you reach in this scenario is not to worry as much about reducing input costs as in maximizing the use of what you purchase. It then becomes necessary to ensure that ventilation systems are functioning properly and correctly (this includes fans, thermostats and air inlets). Any inlet/exposed equipment not used in winter should have its power source cut off and be properly sealed so it doesnt become an unknown inlet of cold air.
Secondly, procedures of preheating farrowing rooms and supplying extra heat at farrowing should be strictly followed. Any reduction in these activities will increase piglet heat losses.
Thirdly, in the area of energy conservation, floor mats under litters and covers over them can reduce energy needs without affecting the litter's welfare.
In summary, it must be remembered that when a piglet has to dedicate energy to keeping warm it has less resources available for growth, development, disease protection and all its other necessary processes of life.
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