How do you keep pigs warm and well-cared for in the winter?

Answer: Temperature-controlled buildings keep pigs comfortable, warm and safe and allow us to monitor their health and well-being with some extra steps during harsh winter months.

Caring for animals has a different set of challenges that come and go with each season in northern Illinois. Winter is certainly no exception to the rule. During the winter months we are tasked with keeping the animals warm in addition to providing them with food, water, and a safe living space.

All of the hogs on our farm live in enclosed buildings – this is the industry standard. Very few hogs are raised outside. When our grandfathers raised pigs, most of it was done outside! Now hogs are farrowed, bred artificially, gestated, and finished all indoors. This allows for year-round production.

Believe it or not, we still have to worry about the pigs staying warm in the winter when they live inside. Today, hog building temperatures are regulated using a thermostat, not unlike the thermostat in your home. The heating and cooling mechanisms are just different. If the temperature of a barn drops below the pre-set, desired temperature range, heaters or heat lamps will automatically turn on. In the warm months, if the temperature gets too warm, fans and/or sprinkler systems kick on.

While many barns have heaters, some finishing barns rely on the body heat of the animals to heat the building and fans/curtains/windows for cooling purposes. When young pigs (smaller bodies = less radiating body heat) are in these types of buildings, it can be difficult to keep them warm enough during the harsh winter months.

We recently moved a group of young pigs to a finishing building during a particularly cold snap of weather. To ensure these young animals would be sufficiently warm in their new home, the windows were covered with plastic to keep the harsh winds from entering the building – much like some people do in their homes during the winter. Straw was also spread throughout the pens to provide extra bedding and insulation. Typically, there is not straw in pens because it is too messy.

Keeping the pigs warm is not winter’s only challenge in raising hogs. Activities outside of the barn are equally important to the well-being of the livestock. Feed for the animals is stored in small bins near, and outside, of the barns. This feed is transported to the appropriated animals automatically using an auger system that runs through tubing. The challenge here is that the feed can freeze inside of these augers!

When the ground is icy, even delivering feed to these storage bins can prove to be a difficult task. Our tractors slide on ice no different than your car. This can make backing a feed wagon…at a diagonal…up an incline…a touch tricky.

Waterlines can also become problematic. Many of the lines run along exterior walls of buildings and when temperatures dip too low outside, the water will freeze and burst the lines. Not only does this create quite the mess, but it has to be repaired very quickly to ensure the animals constantly have access to fresh water.

Raising hogs throughout the winter certainly comes with a set of challenges, but thanks to temperature-controlled buildings and advancements in production technology, animals can be kept warm and well fed, even during a “polar vortex!”