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What are your pigs breathing in?

August 12, 2016
What are your pigs breathing in?

With summer temperatures soaring, producers are focusing on heat and the stress that can come with it. A major effort is put into controlling the temperature and increasing ventilation to make sure the animals have a healthy environment. With this increased ventilation, producers should also keep a close eye on what their pigs are breathing in. A pig’s respiratory system plays an essential role in the animal’s health and the producer’s overall profitability.

Fighting a toxic gas

Respiratory capacity allows oxygen to be properly utilized by exercising muscles and other tissues. If levels of gasses like ammonia are not managed appropriately, respiratory tract damage and other illnesses can occur.

Ammonia is a toxic gas that, when present in high levels, can damage the cell lining in the respiratory tract and can easily become a chronic problem in the barn. The gas can not only cause stillbirth, boar taint, tail biting and respiratory diseases in pigs, but it can also cause severe problems for human caretakers.

Where does ammonia come from?

Ammonia is released from urea in urine through the activity of waste-degrading microbes. Both urea and ammonia gas contain nitrogen. Urea is formed by the kidneys and is used by the body as a way to excrete nitrogen.

A number of management factors can contribute to poor air quality and ammonia, including damp bedding, lack of ventilation and nutritional factors like overfeeding protein.

Managing air quality

It is important that your animals have sufficient ventilation. This not only helps to circulate ammonia out of the barn, but can help in keeping bedding dry. Here are four areas to focus on for improving ventilation and reducing poor air quality:

  • Determine that all fans are in working order. Clean fan blades, check the motors and make sure the fan’s thermostat works. 
  • Examine fan blades and louvers for damage and rust, and replace them if they are older than 10 to 15 years old.
  • Check that the feeding equipment outside the building is working properly, the curtains close securely, debris and/or equipment are cleaned up and put away before snowfall, and propane tanks are examined for leaks.
  • Check air inlets and temperature, and test supplemental heat sources inside buildings.

Many producers also use nutritional technologies in their feed like Yucca schidigera plant extract, which can be used as an additive to reduce adverse manure emissions and lower the levels of ammonia in animal housing. By keeping manure odor and ammonia at levels conducive to maintaining the pig’s respiratory health, it creates a healthier environment not only for the animal, but also for the producer.