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Mud, the Perfect Sun-Oinkment

Summer’s coming and while we humans may be crazy enough to rush out into the midday sun with just a little sunscreen to protect our skin, animals can’t do the same thing. In fact, the hot summer months can be very uncomfortable for farm animals. Phoebe, the RSPCA’s Senior Scientific Officer, tells us all about how pigs like to keep cool in the summer and what farmers can do to help them feel more comfortable.

Keeping Cool in the Hot Weather

All mammals, even humans, need to ‘thermoregulate”, which simply means controlling your body temperature. If we stay out in the sun too long, we could get sunstroke, if we get too hot, we are at the risk of getting heat exhaustion. We need to control our body temperature and apart from changing our external environment, by wearing light clothes or opening the window, humans also have an innate ability to cool down: sweating.

When our temperature rises, it causes the sweat glands in our skin to release sweat. Then as the sweat evaporates from the surface of our skin, it takes the heat with it, cooling down our bodies. Heat travels through liquid better than it does through the air, so as the sweat evaporates, it takes away the excess heat and reduces our body temperature.

Sweating Like a Pig

Interestingly, pigs don’t sweat, so the phrase ‘sweating like a pig’ actually has nothing to do with them! They don’t have many sweat glands, and the few they do have are all located on the tip of their snout. This means that pigs can’t regulate their body temperature the same way we do when it’s hot, they need to rely on their environment to keep cool.

How Can Farmers Help Their Pigs in the Summer?

Farmers need to provide pigs with ways for them to cool down and protect themselves from the sun in the hot weather. And to do this pigs love nothing more than wallowing in mud. A mud-filled pool where pigs can lie in the mud from head to toe allows them to immerse themselves fully and enjoy the cooling effect on their skin.

Wallow in Glorious Mud

Watching pigs wallow in mud is a fantastic experience. Seeing the pleasure and relief they feel from the heat as they wriggle backwards and forwards and rub their sides and faces in the mud, covering as much of their bodies as possible is amazing. Mud wallows don't just provide relief from the heat, but as the mud dries it has the same cooling effect on the pigs as sweating has on other mammals.

Put on Some Oinkment

Sunburn can be very painful, and for pigs, it can also be extremely dangerous. The mud from the wallows acts like sunscreen for the pigs, creating a protective coating on their skin, protecting them from sunburn.

Keeping Pigs Cool Indoors

When pigs are kept indoors, they need to be in a well-ventilated environment. The RSPCA pig welfare standards give recommendations for the temperature of the barns where the pigs are kept.

Protecting Outdoor and Free-Range Pigs

Heat stress and sunburn are real risks to pigs during the summer. The RSPCA pig welfare standards say that: (i) efforts must be made to ensure the thermal environment is not so hot and (ii) during summer conditions, facilities must be provided to minimise the risk of sunburn.

Managing Sunburn and Heat Stress

The RSPCA pig welfare standards give guidance on ways in which sunburn and heat stress can be managed:

  • provision of well-managed mud wallows
  • provision of cool, spacious, well-ventilated shaded areas which have sufficient space to allow all pigs to lie down simultaneously and to lie apart from each other if they wish to
  • provision of showers/sprinklers, although these only cool the animals and do not offer protection from the sun.
What The RSPCA Pig Welfare Standards Say

The RSPCA’s priority is that whatever the weather, pigs on RSPCA Assured member farms are always cared for in ways that allow them to live comfortable, happier lives and express their natural behaviours. 

Every aspect of the life of farmed animals, from feed and water provision to environmental enrichment, healthcare, handling, and even sun protection is covered by the RSPCA’s welfare standards. The standards are continually evaluated and updated on the best practices in farmed animal welfare which cover everything 

By choosing to buy RSPCA Assured, you are helping encourage more retailers to stock higher welfare products, which in turn, will give more pigs the opportunity to live better lives. Don’t see the logo in your local supermarket? Why not lobby your supermarket to stock RSPCA Assured higher welfare produce?

About the author

Jodie - Website Manager

Jodie is RSPCA Assured's Website Manager. 

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