|The sun can hurt more than humans|
|Written by Michael Fisher, Golden Plains Area Livestock Extension Agent|
As I care for my own mild case of sunburn, I thought this would be a good time to remind 4-H and FFA youth that pigs are susceptible to sunburn.
Pigs do not burn as easily as people do, but they are still vulnerable to this summertime peril. Like us, swine will develop a red, puffy look to their skin and experience pain when they have received too many of the sun’s UV rays. They will also back off on their feed intake, which results in lowered gains and performance.
As I talked about this subject this morning, someone jokingly asked me, “How much sun tan lotion does it take to cover a pig?” But the question brings up a good point.
Exhibitors in Colorado have to take a Meat Quality Assurance class and follow best management practices to show food animals in a 4-H or FFA show. Sunscreen is not approved as a topical treatment for animals. Therefore, without some kind of off-label prescription or guidance from a licensed veterinarian, sunscreen is not a legal means of preventing sunburn on livestock.
The exhibitor needs to look at management for preventing their swine from getting sunburn. Pigs need some kind of shelter so they can get out of the sun. Even a tarp that provides a shaded area can benefit swine on a sunny day.
It is a long-standing stereotype that pigs like to wallow in mud. (Note I’m referring to a mud puddle situation and not creating an excuse to forego cleaning the feces out of the hog pen. Effective management is no excuse for permitting an unsanitary environment.)
There are a couple of reasons swine enjoy a good mud puddle. First, they only have sweat glands in their snout, limiting the pig’s ability to remove body heat. The mud helps to cool them as the moisture in the mud evaporates. Secondly, the mud helps to prevent sunburn by adding a protective layer over their skin.
Another management tip is to provide fresh cool water to keep the pigs hydrated. The water should be located in the shade. This will help to influence the pig to spend time under shade. Finally, limit the exposure your pigs receive from the sun’s UV rays.
Ultra violet rays are typically the most extreme between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Exercise your pigs in the morning and evening hours when the UV rays are less intense.
While any outdoor swine are susceptible to sunburn, show pigs may have a higher chance of having a problem with it. One of the reasons for this is these animals travel more frequently. When you take your pigs to a show, they need to be in a trailer or pick-up rack that provides shade. The fact that the vehicle is moving doesn’t prevent sunburn.
Another culprit of the increased levels of sunburn among show pigs is the practice of hair clipping. Many exhibitors clip the hair on their show pigs to help make them look cleaner and to more expressively display the pig’s positive muscle and lean attributes.
The fact is their hair helps to protect them from the sun. When they are freshly clipped, the chance that sunburn could occur is increased dramatically. It would be no different than if you shaved your head and spent the day in the sun with no scalp protection.
I hope these suggestions are useful to you and you have a fun summer working with your swine project.