Farmer Focus: How we prepare sow paddocks for summer heat

The second-busiest time of year on the farm, second only to the herd moving fields, is the period when we switch from winter to summer mode.

Over the years this seasonal transition has definitely become shorter. One week we are working in winter mud, and then in the blink of an eye we’re kicking up dust and making wallows to protect the sows from the heat.

Meteorological records show a sudden early spring temperature rise has become increasingly common, and rainfall can be almost non-existent in April and May – especially here in the eastern counties.

See also: Expert tips on reducing heat stress in pigs

This makes a timely and thorough summer action plan more important than ever.

Firstly, we excavate wallows in all of our group paddocks. Our sows drink from clean water tanks, so a separate wallowing area is essential.

Ideally, it’s in a position where it might catch rainwater should the heavens open, but also separate from the drinking tank so the two don’t become merged over time.

It’s also important for us to make individual wallows in each of our farrowing paddocks.

Even though we have a large number of modern, insulated plastic huts that are cooler than the steel and plywood they replaced, temperatures can still reach 30C inside.

Therefore, our pregnant and lactating sows need access to muddy water that they can wallow in to cool down.

Farrowing huts get turned 180 degrees to face north-west, which makes the most of any breeze. Some of our huts have automatic vents, which open and shut using expanding wax rams, like those used in greenhouses.

Whatever vent system in fitted, it must be well maintained and ready to open as needed.

Dry sow accommodation has the back doors removed for a through breeze, and the smaller huts are painted white to reflect the sun.

Off the field, our attention is turned to water bowser maintenance, and making sure temperature-critical vaccine and semen storage is being controlled well.

Use of “min-max” thermometers in cabinets and transport boxes is a basic but very effective method of management.

All this takes a month to do. You can then guarantee a month of February-like weather again. Oh the joys of outdoor farming.

Rob McGregor manages an outdoor pig operation in north Norfolk. See his biography.