We’re far enough along with harvest that many producers have begun pumping manure pits. Yesterday I received a call regarding 30 pigs that died over the weekend during pumping and last night an email about rumors of increased pig deaths this year.
Over the past few years I’ve been involved in several situations where pigs died during pumping. The primary cause of death is a sudden spike of hydrogen sulfide gas into the pig zone. Hydrogen sulfide kills rapidly and because of this danger the advice to animal caregivers is NEVER rush into a barn to try and save pigs. If pigs died there is a high risk of danger to caregivers also.
The 30 pigs that died over the weekend were in a curtain barn during the time of day when there was a pretty stiff breeze and the curtains were down. While the caller didn’t know the location in the barn where the pigs died, I’m willing to bet it was in 1-2 pens in a corner of the barn where there was poor air circulation due to the direction of the wind.
Generally deaths occur early in the pumping process when hydrogen sulfide is first released from the manure. It spikes in the pig zone at points in the barn where under-surface agitation hits the back wall or support column and ‘boils’ the manure.
The advice is to minimize agitation until you are at least 2+ feet below the surface of the slats, and even then some pumpers only agitate at ½ speed for the next 2 feet to minimize this danger. Yes, the first loads don’t have as many goodies but our goal has to be pig survival.
Every situation at pumping is different. Don’t rely on the pit pumper to advise you on management of the ventilation system. If you are an owner or grower, the pigs are your responsibility and every production system would rather have sick pigs as a result of chilling than dead pigs.
The goal for management of the ventilation system is fresh air to ALL pigs at ALL times. Do whatever it takes to reduce the chance of a hydrogen sulfide spike and to dilute the spike if it occurs.