Young pigs are fragile yet resilient. As you move them from the sow to the nursery, they face several adjustments. You know about the importance of providing them a clean, dry environment, set at the right temperature. You know about the importance of getting them to transition to a new diet, social realignment and much more. But have you given much thought to the toll that transporting the piglets from point A to point B takes on them?

Regardless of the piglets’ high-health status, and in spite of your efforts to assist in a smooth transition, you may be overlooking a critical step.

Since today’s systems require that piglets move to a separate production site for the nursery/grow/finish stage, a six-hour, 12-hour or longer trailer ride is not uncommon. This transport scenario is an additional stressor for young pigs. Among the stresses that piglets face are mixed groups, crowding, cold, heat, vibration and noise.

“The stress of weaning and transport to a new location may collectively cause dehydration at the end of the transport period,” according to a study funded by the National Pork Board and the Manitoba Pork Council. The study, was conducted by Steinar Wamnes, and Nora Lewis, DVM, University of Manitoba.

Diarrhea is a common problem at weaning, which can complicate the dehydration issue if piglets don’t consume enough water. The question is, how do you know if your piglets are running dry and what can you do to keep them on track?

While the piglets’ drinking behavior upon arriving at their new home is an indication of thirst, a direct measure of water use may be more valuable, note the researchers. They looked at the following areas: How much water do transported weaned piglets use in a given season? Does space allowance during transport affect water use?

Lewis and Wamnes looked at 288 piglets, weaned at 17 days, averaging about 14 pounds. The piglets were placed on trial in one of three seasons -- summer, spring or winter. For each season, two groups of 48 piglets were transported on separate days. The transport period was set at 24 hours; they point out that previous studies suggest that time period is representative of a long, commercial journey and creates the most detrimental effects. Groups of 16 piglets were randomly assigned to transport pens, which allowed the researchers to review three different space allowances.

Here’s what they found:

  • On average, piglets used (consumed and spilled) 5.32 liters (5.62 quarts) per pig on the first day post transport. That declined to 3.77 liters (3.98 quarts) per pig on the second day, and 3.32 liters (3.51 quarts) per pig on the third day.
  • Water use was highest on the first day after transport, compared to the second or third days across all seasons. However, it reached a significant level only for the piglets transported during the summer period.
  • Post-transport water use (the first and second days) was highest for piglets moved in the summer, intermediate for those in spring and lowest for piglets transported in winter. This was particularly evident during the first 24 hours piglets were in their new facility.
  • Pig-space allowance during the 24-hour transport period did not affect the pigs’ water use during the three days after they were ransported.
  • More research is needed to determine the piglets’ actual water consumption and the amounts spilled for the different seasons.

Lewis’ and Wamnes’ take-home message from this study is that weaned piglets transported in the summer use more water on their first day in their new home, which indicates a need to replace water loss.

A dehydrated pig starts off disadvantaged. It delays the piglet’s desire to start eating and sets it up for health challenges. Therefore, it’s always important to ensure that water is accessible, clean and fresh to encourage the piglets to start drinking.

The researchers remind that the dehydration risk increases with rising ambient temperatures. So ensure that waterers are working throughout the facility. You also can benefit from taking measures to reduce truck temperatures during the summer months. Transport piglets during cooler parts of the day is one such measure.