On-farm tasks that are part of quarterly or annual hog facility maintenance checks are important like those required on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. However, they are different since they can involve areas that are difficult to check, especially with pigs in place. In some cases, successfully performing these tasks can greatly influence the longevity of the hog facility and equipment and may require some downtime to address.
“You should check everything between pig groups – down to the light switches – everything should be working before the next group of pigs comes in,” says Jay Harmon, agricultural engineer and associate dean of Extension at Iowa State University (ISU).
If the building runs on a continuous pig-flow schedule, it can be easy to overlook maintenance that would otherwise be triggered by new, incoming groups of pigs in an all-in/all-out flow.
Pork Checkoff provides these quarterly and annual checklists to incorporate into your facility management strategy. Find a printable checklist addressing a range of maintenance timelines.
Quarterly Maintenance Checks or Between Pig Groups
Grease these items:
- Feed bin tail-shaft bearing. Curtain machine acme screw inside the unit.
- Belt-drive fan bearings.
Check these items:
- Oil level in gearbox to ensure that it’s half full. (Not applicable with chain systems.)
- Fan belt and pulley alignment.
- Exterior curtain cable pulleys and cables and ensure alignment.
- pH of the water for cool cells. (Very alkaline water can accelerate pad deterioration.)
- Clean barn heaters with high pressure air.
Seasonal Items for Maintenance Checklists
Sometimes, the annual maintenance check should take place ahead of a change in seasons, such as summer or winter. “Whatever is going to be used in the upcoming season, it’s important to pay attention to,” Harmon says.
Heater settings on the controller can lead to excessive energy use from over-ventilating heated air during cold months. Controller settings may need to be adjusted if ventilation fans kick on shortly after the furnace turns off, according to Shawn Shouse, ISU Extension agricultural engineering specialist.
He points to ISU Extension and Outreach publications for more details on controller settings and minimum ventilation to save on energy and provide a healthy environment.
- Managing swine ventilation controller settings to save energy – Farm Energy (iastate.edu)
- Sizing Minimum Ventilation to Save Heating Energy in Swine Housing – Farm Energy (iastate.edu)
A thorough facility maintenance check of the curtains should be performed annually in the fall before cold temperatures arrive. Check for adequate curtain overlap, sagging, holes or any other issue potentially causing curtain leakage. “Any unplanned opening in the curtain will become a fresh air inlet and short-circuit the ventilation system, potentially leading to cold drafts, poor air distribution and excessive LP use,” Shouse says.
Curtain controllers should be programmed to maximize energy savings and limit room temperature fluctuations, especially for cold and mild weather conditions, he adds. Find details on curtain controller settings in the publication, Swine Building Ventilation System Maintenance and Troubleshooting Tools (iastate.edu).
An Inspection Mindset for Efficient Maintenance Checks
A sound maintenance plan embraces an “inspection mindset” regardless of the month, quarter or annual timeline. This ensures that system components will function efficiently when needed. Also, adjusting your checklist based on the age and condition of the building’s systems and past challenges or adjustments is always advised.
At least once a year, inspect the building structure and equipment. Look for things like foundation cracks, decaying wood, rust/corrosion, sharp edges and worn concrete. The structural concrete in particular needs to be inspected at least annually when the building is empty and clean.
“In horizontal structural members like beams and slats, the structural steel rebar is often 1 to 1.5 inches from the bottom, so this area should be inspected for cracks,” Shouse notes. “Cracks running perpendicular to the beam, along with a sagging slat or beam, indicate an overload failure and require replacement of the slat or beam.”
Cracks running parallel to the slat or beam near the bottom indicate a different kind of failure. These longitudinal cracks allow corrosive pit gases to rust the rebar and may result in catastrophic failure. If the cacks appear minor, plan to replace the slats within the next year. However, if cracks have widened to 1/16 inch, the slat should be replaced immediately.
High traffic and salts in the feed dissolving the cement and limestone aggregate cause extreme wear and tear to the slats around feeders. Epoxy patch products are available to repair slats and extend their lifespan. For more guidance on what to look for and how to address concrete issues, check out this Iowa State University Concrete Inspection in Swine Buildings resource.
Other Areas to Check
Harmon says other too-often-neglected areas include attic openings where debris can collect. These should be cleaned out, and air inlets checked to ensure nothing is broken and everything is working properly.
Areas such as cool-cells, naturally, won’t be needed in cold weather, but they should be winterized.
Perhaps the most neglected area on many farms are pit fans. They should be cleaned (power-washed) and inspected during warm-weather months to ensure they’re working correctly during winter. “If you go into November with them dirty, it won’t be addressed until spring,” Harmon notes.
Finally, be honest with yourself and your ability or desire to maintain equipment. Sometimes a piece of equipment or system is simply old and requires too much maintenance to be worthwhile. “Look for an opportune time to replace a problem,” Harmon advises, “because you may get much better performance out of a new version.”
Whether you perform maintenance checks in your hog facility quarterly, between pig groups, annually or some combination, it’s important to make time to complete this longer-term maintenance checklist.