Three Foundations of Proper Pig Care: The animal, environment and equipment

Daily observations are not just a Pork Quality Assurance catch phrase, they are a foundational principal of proper pig care. Pig well-being and welfare starts with a daily evaluation of the animal, the environment, and the equipment.

The Animal

There are the obvious items we should be checking every day. Does the pig have food and water? Have the pigs received appropriate medical care? Beyond those obvious items, there are a number of subtle items that if we pay attention, could help with early identification of problems.

  • Pigs with visibly sunken eyes (indicating dehydration) are one of the first signs of a hemolytic e.coli break.
  • Tail or side biting can be indicators of a number of issues.
    • This could indicate that something in the environment is not right. Feeders that are wide open or too tight could contribute. Issues with ventilation or reduced water pressure could also contribute.
    • This could also indicate a feed issue. Either inappropriate mycotoxin levels or a diet formulation issue could be contributing.
  • Dirty pigs can indicate the barn is too humid. It can also indicate the pigs are starting to have inappropriately loose stools.
  • Animals with a slight head tilt or slight in-coordination of movements can be early signs of a bacterial meningitis. If we catch this early, those pigs have a good chance of recovery.

The Environment

The air quality needs to be appropriate. We need to follow our temperature curves. But again, there are more subtle items that we should be watching.

  • A change in the dunging area, or pigs defecating outside the dunging area could indicate ventilation concerns or be a sign pigs have been infected with a gut pathogen.
  • Pigs piling in an adequately warm barn.
    • This could indicate the pigs have fevers, which can be one of the first signs of disease.
    • This could also indicate an issue with ventilation leading to drafting pigs.

The Equipment

We need to make sure there are no holes in flooring, broken gating, bent hog panels or anything else that could cause injury to a pig. These items need to be addressed, but we shouldn’t stop there.

  • Check the water meter. A sudden decrease in water intake could indicate an issue with the water lines or with the medicator. Drops in water are also a consistent and reliable early indicator of a coming disease challenge.
  • Noticing inappropriate heater run time. This can help you identify ventilation issues before they become a trigger for disease.
  • Feeders with excessive feed/water. This is an indication pigs are playing in the feeders and could indicate a feed issue such as a mixing error or a high level of mycotoxins in the feed. This could also be an early indicator of disease.

If we are deliberate and detailed in our daily observations, we can take them from an industry catch phrase to an incredibly useful tool.


Article by: Dr. Cara Haden, Veterinarian and Animal Welfare Director

Pipestone Veterinary Services