Heat mats are not likely to fail and cause a "no heat event" like heat bulbs often do when they burn out. A pig heat mat gets its heat input from either electricity or hot water. Many farms in Europe have water lines in the creep area that heat the sloped floor to keep concrete creep areas warm and dry.
In the US, electricity to heat pads is predominantly used, because most producers have perforated floors without any concrete. Concrete in a farrowing stall is more difficult to maintain because it has the potential for harboring Coccidiosis bacteria in the pores of the concrete. Pig heating pads provide a solid surface, whereas a rubber mat is required under a heat lamp. Most producers add a drying agent to the solid surface where the heat is, and some will add a creep feed later in the turn to get piglets started on nursery feed, or to help the tail-enders get caught up.
Another major benefit of a heat mat is its shape: Pig heating pads maintain a larger, more spread-out heat source in the creep area. For litters over 12 pigs, a 5 foot mat is used to provide the recommended 0.33 square feet per piglet. In wean-to-finish, Dr. Hongwei Xin of Iowa State University recommends 0.5 square feet per pig.
Heat lamps cannot accomplish these recommendations. In order to provide more intense heat, lamps must be lowered closer to the floor surface, thus decreasing the usable heated area. In turn, to provide a larger coverage area of heat, lamps must be raised, which decreases the intensity.
Also, only one electrical outlet is needed for every two stalls with a pig heat mat, whereas a plug is needed for each heat lamp. Maintaining an extra, unused outlet in the stall allows for the use of heat lamps for day one pig care. Lamps can then easily be removed after the litter is born, because most litters are born at night and a heat mat can then provide the animals’ heating requirements.
Centering the pig heating pads in the creep area keeps the piglets near the teat they’re nursing from, thus encouraging increased lactation. By also keeping the sow cooler, she is encouraged to eat more and be more comfortable. Frequently, sows that are too warm fidget and move around to find a cooler place to lie, which increases crush-losses.
Pig heating pads can be cleaned while in-place in the farrowing stall. They are fastened at each corner and meant to be a fixture in the stall. Scours and rotavirus concerns can be minimized by cleaning along the edges of the pads. A heat mat has years of useful life, unlike heat lamps which can sometimes last for just days.