Climate Control for Newborn Pigs

( Highway Farms )

As the swine industry seeks to better understand prewean mortality (PWM), a new product developed by an Iowa-based ag tech startup seeks to address this ongoing problem. A recent study at Iowa State University evaluated the piglet production performance and economic impact of the Haven, a product developed by Iowa-based ag tech startup FarrPro.

The Haven is a heat and light supplementation platform for use in farrowing crates. It is a parabolic-shaped shield that covers two stalls, describes Brett Ramirez, assistant professor in agricultural and biosystems engineering at Iowa State University. It contains a heating element that sits between the stalls, radiating heat off the parabolic shaped shield with an enclosed curtain system that allows piglets to pass in and out of the warm environment in the farrowing stall. 

The pilot study took place on a 1,000-head commercial sow farm near Ogden, Iowa, comparing the semi-enclosed heated microclimate with traditional heat lamps (HL). Although the results showed no statistically significant difference in average daily gain or PWM, he says when you looked further at the cost of PWM and energy, the advantages were significant for the Haven compared to heat lamps.

The Haven provided a warmer microclimate compared to the heat lamps, thereby better meeting the thermal needs of neonatal piglets. No difference was noted in the growth rate, Ramirez says, suggesting the creep area heat source has a limited impact on the sow and her milk production. However, a covered creep area could enable reduced farrowing room temperatures, which could improve sow body condition. 

The majority of the overall PWM difference can be explained through the difference in laid-on mortalities, Ramirez explains. The difference in the percentage of laid-on mortalities was significantly different, the Haven had 4.05% and heat lamps had 6.04% laid-on mortalities. The only significantly different parity group and supplemental heat source was HL and geriatric sows, with a PWM there were 19.23% and laid-ons saw 11.04%. Compared to the Haven and geriatric sows, the PWM had 10.16% and laid-ons had 5.07%. Ramirez says the greatest benefit of the Haven was observed with the older sows.

Lower electrical energy usage was also attributed to the individualized control of each Haven. 

“From a producer’s standpoint, this decision comes down to cost,” Ramirez says. “It’s a unique product that is targeting one of the challenges with farrowing stall environments. Piglets need a warmer environment compared to sows who need a cooler environment. Traditional heat lamps don’t do that well; they use a lot of energy. This product actually separates the environment by keeping the heat from, for lack of a better term, leaking onto the sow.”

Ben Smith, graduate student in Ramirez’s lab who led the trial, says producers noticed a major difference in behavior with the Haven. 

“From a producer standpoint, piglets using the Haven; exhibit a drastic difference in behavior. The piglets don’t pile in the Haven. They lay side by side and occupy the entire mat under the Haven. It’s a more organized response to it versus piling under the heat lamps,” Smith says.

This research was published in the Oct. 25, 2019 issue of Animals. Collaborators include Smith, Ramirez, Steven Hoff and Laura Greiner all of Iowa State University.

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