Manage a Well-Maintained Hog Facility
Facilities are the single biggest investment on a hog farm and you want to keep them running effectively and efficiently for a long time.
This is especially true if you’re a contract grower. Maintaining your facility plays a critical role in key outcomes — from animal care and well-being to animal productivity — that ultimately affect the financial bottom line.
The lifespan of a well-maintained hog building can run 30-40 years or more.
“Regular building inspection and maintenance can increase the life of buildings, reduce annual costs, prevent system failures and reduce inefficiencies that can negatively impact animal health, production and economic returns,” says Kapil Arora, field agricultural engineer with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.
Experts really do recommend an ounce of prevention. They say that spending a bit of time and a few dollars on maintenance today can prevent a major bill or emergency down the road.
Create a Hog Facility Maintenance Routine
Facilities and equipment vary from farm to farm and even from building to building. There are some universal maintenance steps that apply to all producers on a daily, weekly and longer-term basis.
Producers with older barns may expect to have more maintenance demands, but owners of new barns can’t be complacent. Pigs of all ages are hard on facilities and equipment, and the environment can be corrosive and expedite the wear and tear.
“Maintenance should be as much a part of a daily farm routine as feeding animals,” says Steve Matthis, long-time swine production and building maintenance specialist.
Download the Daily Hog Facility Checklist
You’re already in the barn to check on the hogs, so plan to add a few more minutes and make this checklist part of the daily routine. The more you put it into practice, the faster the process will go. At the same time, avoid the temptation to skip a step or a day.
The Pork Checkoff has compiled a concise but comprehensive maintenance checklist. Consider downloading, laminating and posting copies inside your hog barns.
Feed and water:
- Check for leaking water nipples or cups and water lines.
- Ensure properly sized water nipples for stage of pig (flow rates: nursery, 1-2 cups/minute; finishing, 2-4 cups/minute; breeding, 4 cups/minute).
- Inspect water-pressure regulators and adjust to roughly 30-40 psi.
- Adjust heights of swinging waterers (at the pigs’ shoulder) and check cable or chain integrity.
- Check proper feeder adjustment for the size of pigs.
- Check for clogged feeder drop and feed tube.
- Ensure feed tubes are centered correctly on the feed line.
- Visually inspect feed bins and unloaders for leaks.
- Clean up feed spills to reduce rodents and pit blockages.
- Check ventilation control for proper settings.
- Inspect fan louvers for breaks or stuck louvers.
- Check ceiling or wall diffusers for correct positions.
- Inspect curtains for sags, holes or gaps; also check bird wire and hog panels.
- Check override-fan thermostat to ensure proper calibration and operation.
- Check cool-cell discharge pipe to ensure water flows freely.
- Ensure cool-cell pads dry daily to prevent algae and mineral growth.
- Check exhaust temperature from the heaters’ discharge (approximately 300°F).
- Check that slat grates or manhole covers are properly secured.
- Ensure proper operation of pit-fit fans and waste-handling systems.
- Monitor freeboard levels in lagoons and pits.
- Ensure lift station floats and alarms are working.
Monitor and Address Problem Areas
The point of making maintenance part of your daily routine is because it’s easy to overlook and walk past problem areas.
Mattis points to fans as an example of “one of the most neglected machines on the swine farm.” Most run at some level all year round. You may clean them periodically, but do you stop and inspect the blades, belts and pulleys?
“We assume if the blades are turning, the correct amount of air is being expelled from the building,” he adds.
As pigs grow and seasons change, ventilation and temperature settings need to change as well. This is particularly important in the spring and fall when temperatures can shift widely. But how closely do you monitor that and intervene?
The water system is another easy one to overlook, even if you check waterers for leaks and flows. There’s real benefit in monitoring daily use by room or barn as water is an early indicator of health problems, says Ron Ketchem, Swine Management Systems, Fremont, Nebraska.
Less dramatic declines could mean the water lines are plugged or the well isn’t working properly; a sudden jump suggests a leak.
Pressure regulators can help keep water pressure in balance, which is particularly important with nipple waterers. If it’s running low, check to ensure there’s no iron, slime or calcium build-up in the lines. It’s also important to check flows during high-use times, and in all areas of the barn, Ketchem notes.
Facility maintenance should be proactive, Mattis says.
“Production and maintenance should go hand in hand to maximize performance. The bottom line is not how much money you make, but how much you save.”