*Krissa Welshans holds a bachelor's degree in animal science from Michigan State University and a master's degree in public policy from New England College. Welshans has long been involved in agriculture and has worked with numerous agricultural groups, including the Animal Agriculture Alliance.
HEAT placement for young pigs is a critical component for getting animals started quickly and maintaining optimal health, according to Brian Strobel, North American sales representative for Osborne Industries Inc.
Strobel said during the gestation and finishing periods, only one macro-environment is necessary because animals are of similar age and have similar temperature requirements.
In the farrowing, nursery and wean-to-finish periods, however, Strobel emphasized thata a micro-environment must be maintained within the larger airspace.
In farrowing, piglets must be kept from becoming chilled, which often leads to scours, more tail-enders and fewer healthy, thriving piglets.
He said a draft-free zone of warm air in the piglet area is most desirable. At 48 in. off the floor, the temperature can be maintained at 68 degrees F (20 degrees C) , but on the floor, or in this piglet zone, a constant temperature of 80-90 degrees F (27-32 degrees C) is desirable for much of the farrowing turn, or until animals are older and have less need for supplemental heat.
According to Strobel, there are two ways to provide supplemental heat to piglets: from the top down or the bottom up.
Heat rises, so having heat under the piglets tends to be more practical and economical. Heat is not lost because the heat source is completely utilized by the litter. Bottom-up heat works well for farrowing and nursery animals, he said.
Radiant heat from above the animals works best for wean-to-finish pigs. Top-down heat provides a zone of comfort for animals to go to the feeder, get a drink and then lie down again under the heat source.
For pigs up to 21 days of age, Strobel noted that heating pads are the preferred choice for many reasons. First, a farrowing stall is rectangular, and the pig heat mat fits logically in the creep area, creating a 6 in. gap between the heat source and sow.
When heat lamps are used, heat travels to the sow, and no warm zone is created to discourage piglets from getting too close to the sow. According to Strobel, this exponentially increases the chances of laid-ons or crush losses.
Second, by utilizing pig heating pads, there is no chance of "blowing a bulb," which Strobel said frequently happens with heat lamps.
With a blown bulb, from the time the farm employees leave the facility in the afternoon until they arrive back the next morning, animals could be without heat. This can cause the development of scours problems, respiratory issues and other health problems that cost producers several days' worth of performance before the animals are caught up with the rest of the piglets in farrowing.
According to Strobel, a pig heat mat gets its heat input from either electricity or hot water.
Many farms in Europe have water lines in the creep area that heat the sloped floor to keep concrete creep areas warm and dry, while in the U.S., electric heat pads are predominantly used because most producers have perforated floors without any concrete.
Concrete in a farrowing stall is more difficult to maintain because it has the potential to harbor coccidiosis bacteria in the pores of the concrete, Strobel noted.
Pig heating pads provide a solid surface, whereas a heat lamp requires a rubber mat under it. Most producers add a drying agent to the solid surface where the heat is, and some will add a creep feed later in the turn to get piglets started on nursery feed or to help the tail-enders get caught up.
Strobel pointed out that, unlike heat lamps, heat mats provide a larger area for the piglets. In order to provide more intense heat, he said lamps must be lowered closer to the floor surface, which decreases the usable heated area. To provide a larger coverage area of heat, lamps must be raised, which decreases their intensity.
Centering the pig heating pads in the creep area keeps the piglets near the teats, thus encouraging increased lactation. Strobel said the sow also stays cooler, which keeps her more comfortable and encourages increased eating activity. When sows are too warm, they fidget and move around to find a cooler place to lie, which increases crush losses.
Heat mats merely receive information on the temperature at which they should operate. Strobel recommended a controller that sets the desired temperature. By using controllers, heat can effectively be ramped down as animals grow, thus extending energy savings even further.
According to Strobel, the payback for a heat mat system and controller routinely falls within 14 months on systems that use 21-day farrowing cycles. Based on an energy cost of 25 cents/kWh, Stobel calculated that the electrical savings per year for using 4 ft. mats versus 125-watt bulbs averages $56 per year per stall.
The biggest advantage of pig heating pads is in the reduction in preweaning mortality, Strobel reported. Several tests have been conducted that validate a 0.5 pig-per-litter increase with mats due to diminished crush loss.
With weaned pigs averaging $34 annually, saving 0.5 pig with 14 litters per year works out to save seven pigs. There will be an extra feed cost to produce more animals, but a greater reduction in crush losses means more marketable animals and more producer profits in the end.
A detailed annotation of the genome of T.J. Tabasco, a pig from the University of Illinois South Farms, is the outcome of more than 10 years of work by an international consortium.
The consortium initially included labs in Korea, Japan, Illinois and Iowa State University. Groups at the Sanger Institute in the U.K., Wageningen University in the Netherlands and Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA) in France joined later.
Today, the project includes scientists from more than 50 research groups.
University of Illinois vice president for research Lawrence Schook said the project has three main objectives: (1) to serve as a blueprint for understanding evolution and domestication, (2) to advance research on animal production and health and (3) to explore ways to use the pig in biomedical applications.
The first publication, which just appeared in the journal Nature, focuses on the pig's evolution. Researchers compared the reference genome from T.J. Tabasco with genomes of wild and domesticated pigs from Europe and Asia (including archaeological and museum samples) and to the genomes of the human, mouse, dog, horse and cow.
"The pig is interesting because the wild boar still exists," Schook explained. "We could look at domestication, and we also looked at speciation. From an evolutionary perspective, these subspecies diverge in a very short time."
The researchers traced the domesticated pig back to Southeast Asia. From there, it spread across Eurasia. The glaciation period separated the pigs into two groups about 1 million years ago. Today, they are almost subspecies.
"However, their chromosome structures have stayed very similar," Schook noted.
Pigs were independently domesticated in western Eurasia and East Asia 10,000-15,000 years ago. There is evidence that as early European settlers moved around, they bred the domesticated females with wild boars.
Pigs in Central and South America are thought to have originated on the Iberian Peninsula. In a paper soon to be published in Heredity, the researchers tracked how these pigs adapted to different climates, altitudes and diets.
In addition to providing insights into how the pig evolved, the genome sequencing provides valuable new tools for animal breeding.
One is a DNA test that can identify individual pigs that are less susceptible to certain diseases or have a genetic predisposition to fattening rapidly, eating less and bearing many offspring.
On the biomedical side, researchers will build upon ongoing efforts to use the pig to model human diseases, including lifestyle diseases such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The sequencing identified 112 genes in pigs that are also responsible for diseases in people, suggesting that pigs could be used for drug testing.
Another direction is to use pigs as a source of organs for people. Schook mentioned islet cells for diabetics as an example.
"Human transplant of islets doesn't work because there's not enough cells in a single pancreas," he explained. "If you could have an animal source, even if (the islets) get rejected, they're plentiful."
Clearly, there are a variety of possibilities for future research, but for Schook, "the next phase is looking at this concept of epigenomics -- of how the environment affects gene expression."