Toasty Piglets on a Cold Winter’s Night
It is cold. This has been a relatively warm winter, like last year, which I like but we’ve had two brief cold spells and we’re in one of those now. Today was
We just got in from loading pigs for the weekly trip to market. Our boots sound very loud and crisp on the snow. Very different than when it is warmer and the snow muffles the sound. This is more like walking on broken glass. The snow powder, no crust, but very loud.
Insulation Layer in Piglet Creep
This is cold enough that you must not touch metal with bare hands – you’ll stick to it. The wind bites and can give frost bitten cheeks quite quickly. Blocking the wind is key to keeping the animals healthy – thus why we build their shelters in the hollows of the landscape.
Interestingly, it is -15°F outside but in the open sheds where our pigs sleep the thermometer reads 29°F. There is a lot of heat coming off their bodies and from the composting deep bedding pack. When they root down to make their nests steam billows up. Warm toes and bellies. Their backs are heavily haired this time of year and with good reason.
Foil Layer of Creep
We have spring water for our house and the animals. We leave the water running slightly at all times. When I put in our plumbing I set up a special valve in the cottage just for this purpose. All winter it drips to keep the water moving and prevent frozen pipes. I have a second valve right there that lets me open it if it does freeze so I can drill out the pipe using the residual hot water in our hot water tank should it freeze up. This has happened when I had the drip too slow and it got too cold. Even with the pipes insulated and buried the frost can travel along them. On metered town water this would not be as good a solution. Here on the mountain the water is free. It isn’t a waste as either way it just runs down the mountain continuously from the springs – through our pipes or across the ground.
Piglets Happily Ensconced in Creep Brooder
With some help from Ben, Will retrofitted the chick brooder to be an insulated piglet creep to help our newborn piglets get through these deeply cold nights. It is crude by Martha Stewart standards, no Home and Gardens awards here. But it does the job. The pink foam insulates, the foil-bubble-bubble-foil reflects the heat back to the piglets and the plywood protects the foil and insulation from piglets and chickens.
I do not like heat lamps due to the fire risk but we’re going through a spell of deep cold where I take the risk. The humidity in the piglet creep is so high that the chance of fire is low. Outdoors the thermometer dipped to -16°F. In the shelter of the sow’s open shed the temperature was a balmy 29°F. In the brooder at the floor level the temperature was a toasty 42°F. Directly under the 100 watt incandescent light bulbs it was much warmer.
What really matters is not the degrees on the thermometer but how the piglets arrange themselves. Out in the sow’s area they had been sleeping piled four high – that can crush weak ones on the bottom. In the creep brooder under the lights they spread out to just one to two piglets high. Pigs do like sleeping in a pig pile but best to not let it get too deep.
After a couple of night the sows and the piglets learned the routine. Now the little ones file into the creep at night. There is also yogurt in there for them and they are visiting it during the day to get a bit of extra food as well as the warmth.
Update: I have an aversion to heat lamps because of worries about fire and animals electrocuting themselves. There are heat pads but interestingly our piglets don’t seem to like the commercial hard plastic heat pads. I haven’t figured out why. Sometimes we use heat lamps but we’ve also found that creeps and hovers built like this one work pretty well even without the heat from pads and lamps. True of both chicks and piglets. The biggest issue with this sort of space is humidity so good ventilation is important.
Outdoors: -8°F/-22°F Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 62°F/59°F
When fish unite it is called a school.
When wolves unite it is called a pack.
When politicians unite it is called a party.
When workers unite it is called union.
When vegetarians unite it is called a herd, or lunch.