Stress is not only bad for the animal and the producer’s profits, but it also short-changes the consumer. Stress right before slaughter can result in pale, soft pork with greater drip loss, while long-term stress can cause dark, firm and dry pork.
Stress also has major implications on the animal’s overall health, and with the summer heat approaching comes a perfect storm for stress. Pork producers not only have to worry about the normal sorting, loading and hauling stress on their herd, but they also have to address the additional challenges from heat stress.
“Respiratory rates begin to increase around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and with high humidity, it becomes difficult for pigs to find relief from the heat on their own,” said Russell Gilliam, United States swine business manager for Alltech.
When pigs become agitated from stress, one of the first things affected is their eating habits. When pigs eat less, they convert less feed into muscle, thus reducing average daily gain and potentially increasing their days to market. This also opens the door to an increased risk of health challenges and ultimately additional costs for producers.
Though stress cannot be fully avoided, it should be a goal to minimize it as much as possible. Gilliam suggests some quick tips to reduce stress and its effects:
- Reduce instances of large swings in temperature in the barn.
- Ensure each pig has enough space and ventilation.
- Provide pigs with unlimited access to fresh and cool drinking water.
- Move, transport and work pigs early in the day.
- Tailor diets to include technologies that support pigs during stress.
Data has shown that offering pigs a combination of organic acids, electrolytes, enzymes and probiotics can support young animals during times of stress. Organic acids support probiotic growth in the gut, and enzymes can help enhance intake and digestibility. Electrolytes keep the animal hydrated, especially in times of heat stress.
“A combination of technologies in the pig’s feed can work quickly to lower the pH of the water, as water is the major component in reducing stress and increasing feed intake,” said Gilliam. “Depending on the type of water and the target level for pH, these technologies can work on their own or with a combination of other ingredients to help optimize the gut environment.”