Montreal

Quebec pig farmers lose livestock to soaring temperatures

Quebec's hottest July in 97 years wasn't just deadly to vulnerable people. Pigs are heat sensitive, as they hardly sweat and can't easily regulate their body temperature.

Producers take steps to protect pigs which don't regulate body temperature well

Pigs' bodies don't sweat much, making it hard for them to keep cool on hot and humid days. (Laszlo Balogh/Reuters)

As Quebec bids farewell to the hottest July in 97 years, hogs across Quebec are succumbing to the unusually high temperatures, despite farmers' efforts to protect them from the heat and high humidity.

Sanimax, a recycling plant that offers a byproduct reclamation service in Lévis, Que., has received 1.2 million kilograms more animal carcasses than usual this summer, representing an increase of 47 per cent.

"It's a historic crisis," said Sanimax's operations director, Yannick Cadotte. "It's unheard of."

Farmer Louis-Phillipe Roy told Radio-Canada that his barn temperatures exceeded 36 C last month, although he's managed to save all his pigs so far this summer.

"I was very lucky this year," said Roy.

He knows others that were not so lucky.

Roy, the president of Éleveurs de porcs des Deux Rives, located in Saint-Michel-de-Bellechasse in the Chaudière-Appalaches region, said he doesn't know how many Quebec pigs have died, but there has been "a lot of mortality."

Hot days and nights make matters worse

Beauce pork producer René Roy said he has lost about 10 animals this season — or about .5 per cent of his production. He described this summer's heat wave as "the worst."

It was long, he said, and temperatures didn't drop overnight, making it particularly difficult to ventilate and cool down barns in the evening.

This summer has been particularly humid, he said, making it even harder to keep pigs cool.

Pork producers are losing pigs despite hog-cooling efforts such as increased ventilation, spraying them with water and changing their schedules. (Marc-Antoine Lavoie/Radio-Canada)

"We have to make sure that we are not going to move the pigs during extreme heat," he said. "We wait for the mornings, very early, which forces producers to get up practically during the night or after sundown, around 9 or 10 p.m."

Farmers like Roy are putting in place heat-reduction measures such as fans, changing activity schedules and spraying the animals with water.

Quebec hog farmer Sébastien Pagé told Quebec AM that he radically changed his pigs' schedules to deal with the heat.

Roy said that is something "we are advising producers to do."

"It depends also on the size of the operation and the manpower that is available, but that is certainly something that helps."

Protecting pigs from heat

With Quebec's harsh winters and hot summers to contend with, René Roy told CBC's Quebec AM that the barns are designed to be a "compromise" between the two seasonal extremes.

"We make sure that our buildings are built for our winter, but now we have to take care of our summer, too, especially when there are big heat waves," he said. "There is ventilation that we put in place. There is also water spraying."

Farmers need to make sure to reduce the amount of pigs in each barn so as to increase ventilation as well. This method is also used when transporting pigs to ensure it doesn't get too stuffy in trucks.

"We have the best practices in the industry not only for raising pigs, but also for transportation," he said of Quebec's pork industry and its code of practice.

Louis-Philippe Roy, a hog producer in Saint-Michel-de-Bellechasse, has not lost animals this summer, but he said other producers have seen significant losses. (Marc-Antoine Lavoie/Radio-Canada )

Sows that are near giving birth are even more vulnerable because their body temperature naturally rises during this period. The death of a sow and litter means the farmer loses between $1,500 and $2,000.

Pigs consume more water and less food during heat waves, farmers say, meaning they grow more slowly.

Quebec pork producers are considering applying for government aid.

"It's an extreme situation," said René Roy. "As a producer, I had not gone through a heat wave of such intensity. It is that even at night it is very hot. Our losses have economic effects, but also on the stress of producers."

Quebec produced 8.6 million of the 21.5 million pigs slaughtered in Canada in 2017, according to Canada Pork International.  

With files from Radio-Canada and CBC's Quebec AM

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