Is the barn today made correctly for your pigs?

Top producers manage ventilation well to meet demands of today and tomorrow’s pigs.

May 21, 2024

3 Min Read
National Pork Board

By Levi Johnson, DVM, Swine Vet Center P.A.

Summer months are extremely important to pork producers. With more favorable market conditions, producers are challenged with trying to maximize profit and makeup for tighter margins or losses that occurred during the rest of the year. This summer has even more importance with the challenges the industry has faced over the last two years. Managing controllables, including ventilation, is vital to that success.

If we consider market weight fat hogs and due-to-farrow sows, we realize that these are some of the most susceptible to heat stress in the entire pork production chain. It can’t be understated that ventilation equipment needs to be operating at its best knowing the economic impact of well cooled animals. But how often do we fall short of the barn operating optimally? Are we evaluating fan operation capacity with a yes or no question? Many bright minds in pig production taught us examples in the field and mathematical performance loss from issues like dirty fan blades, worn fan tips, bad fan bearings and loose fan belts to name a few. Still, in busy day to day lives in pig production, we can miss looking close enough to see some items that can improve the pig’s environment, and ultimately, performance.

Adopting the mindset of maintaining equipment at a high level of functionality year-round delivers the most consistency. Consistent habits that lead to reliably operational equipment mirror that of the best breeder performance, or the nursery manager with the lowest mortality in a production system: executing the correct process every day. We’re asking our modern pig farms to control the heat, cooling and air quality of our animals 365 days a year and need to stay on maintenance issues that arise. Mechanical issues need to be identified as early as possible and we can’t let problems add up.

Today we have multiple tools for identifying ventilation issues including alarms, remote access to controls and sensor reading, and hi-low temperatures. We need to use all of those tools and need to ensure the person in the barn every day is verifying that the equipment is operating correctly and simply asking themselves if everything makes sense in the barn that day. I believe as farms and producers have grown bigger, there is more opportunity for slat level workers in the farms to be eyes and ears for the site. We need to make sure training is in place for those individuals to be monitoring on-farm ventilation. While a producer may not want every person on farm changing too much on the ventilation controller, there is great value in on-farm people looking for and reporting issues with ventilation.

In addition, have we stepped back and looked at the big picture of the design of the building and the equipment in it? The pig today has changed dramatically from what it was through changes in genetics, target market weight, and throughput. Is the barn today made correctly for your pigs? Is a farm filtered today with the fan package from before filtration? A finishing example on tunnel ventilated barns is targeting 120+ CFM (cubic feet per minute) per pig maximum ventilation to best maintain summer market weights. If your barn doesn’t have this capacity, have you seen opportunity in market weights over summer months? It may not be feasible to upgrade all sites right away, but starting with consideration on new builds and upgrade packages will make a big difference over time.

Getting barns ventilated optimally through the year takes great concert by ownership, day to day chore personnel, and facility maintenance. Top producers manage day to day ventilation well and have members within the organization that question and challenge building and equipment specifications to meet demands of today and tomorrow’s pigs. It’s my hope that producers can optimize ventilation this summer to help drive a more profitable 2024.

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