Optimized local environment for piglets will increase the piglet survival

Animal Welfare

To ensure higher piglet survival, we must optimize their local environment. A good environment will protect the piglets from freezing – when piglets are freezing, they will use their energy on keeping warm instead of on growing. A nice and warm creep area will also lead the piglets away from the sow, so the risk of being crushed is minimized. This article reviews several points to ensure a good local environment. The recommendations are based on many years of research and experience from swine veterinarians in Denmark.


Room temperature

A piglet is born from a warm sow at 37 degrees into a stable at 21-22 degrees. The piglet is wet, and a high amount of evaporation happens. This cools down the animal, and extra energy is necessary to compensate for the cooling. A piglet is born with a sparse amount of energy, and this energy should be used on reaching the udder of the sow, to get new energy, not on keeping warm.

It can be difficult to accommodate the temperature for both piglet and sow because the optimal temperature for the sow is about 17–18 degrees. The sow will typically get too warm at farrowing, but the piglets get cold when they are born. It is, of course, the sow that must compromise. The recommended temperatures in the figure depend on the type of ventilation in the stable, and whether the section is run sectioned or not.

To avoid a big compromise, some farms provide extra heat for the piglets just after birth. It can be done by adding straw or paper behind the sow, and/or installing heating lamps behind the sow or near the udder of the sow.

The room temperature in the farrowing unit should be decreased by 0.5 degree per week, presuming the piglet creep area is warm and attractive.


Type of ventilation
Production system
0-4  4-14 14 – >
Diffus ventilation
Sectioned Partly slated floor
20-22 18-20 17-18
Not sectioned
19-20 19-20 19-20
Full slatted floor 22-23 20-22 20


The creep area

The creep area for piglets can be designed in many ways, and the maintenance is sometimes postponed. Therefore, regular reviews of the creeps are important to discover defect.

Fancy equipment for measuring is not vital, but thermographic pictures can be a very interesting tool to illustrate the different temperatures in the stable. A laser thermometer should be mandatory equipment because it is cheap and very useful to measure the temperature at the surface in the stable.

The way the piglets are located in the creep area tells us whether they are freezing or not. They are freezing if they lay on top of each other, but the ones furthest away can still be freezing as shown on the picture below. The optimal position is when they are lying with their heads out and in one layer. Remember the temperature changes throughout the day, so this assessment should be done in the morning where it is coolest here.

piglets clump together to keep warm
In the light cone at the picture the temperature is 26.6Co,
It is too cold and the piglet lies with the back out and especial one is cold.


At the above picture (right), you will see that the piglets clumps together to keep warm and the temperature measurement at the thermographic picture shows that the outermost piglet is colder that the piglets behind.

Paper, plastic or a special plate for the front of the creep will help keep the temperature in the creep high enough.

Small and weak piglets have higher needs for heat because they have a bigger surface area compared to their bodyweight. You always have to do something special to give the smallest more heat.

creep area for piglets
The heat in the creep area

The heat can come from heated floor and/or heating lamps – the two types have different effects. It is important that the heat is neither too warm and uncomfortable for the piglets, in which case the piglets will not lie under the heating lamp, nor to cold, in which case the piglets will lie near the sows and risk getting killed.

There are different technical solutions to measure and manage the temperature in the creeps by automatic systems, which should ensure the perfect temperature. However, in these cases, you should be aware that mistakes can happen, so it is still important to observe the piglets’ behavior.



Farrowing pens with fully slatted floors are often designed with a rubber mat or a heating plate in the creep area. But draft from the slurry gutter between the mat and the walls can appear. If the plate near the wall or around the heating lamps is leaky, all warm air will disappear. This air will be replaced by colder air from the entrance of the creep. Draft in the creep will be annoying to the piglets – the moving air feels cold and the temperature in the creep will decrease. Draft can easily be felt by placing your hand in the edge between the corner and edges of the creep. The draft in the entrance can be illustrated with a small flame from a lighter in the entrance. The flame will seek into the creep.


The floor

At a review of the creeps, it is important to check the floor. Creeps without heated floors should have a heat insulating rubber mat. The insulating effect ensures that the heat is not transported through the mat, so the piglets do not have to use their energy to heat up the mat.


Day 0-4 4-14 14 – >
Temp. at floor in the creep 34-36 32-34 30
Flow temp. for floor heat 40-42 40 30-35
Heating lamps ON OFF (day 3-5) OFF



Quality of air in the stable

Good quality of air will prevent respiratory infection. A good climate can be achieved by a proper exchange of the air in the stable. CO2 measurements can easily be done with a CO2-measure at the upper plate of the creeps. The best quality of air is lower than 1500 ppm. A good flow of air in the stable might make extra heat in the stable necessary, particularly in the wintertime and when the piglets are young.

You must reevaluate the local environment for the piglets when the climate changes throughout the year. In the summertime, heat is normally not a problem, but cooling can be an issue. Water spray in front of the ventilation will decrease the room temperature. The autumn and spring are periods with hot days and cold nights, which challenges the ventilation system, and therefore, challenges the optimal environment for the piglets. Wintertime is when the creeps must be perfect. Make a deadline in the calendar every three months – to make sure you check the important points for an optimal piglet environment regularly.


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