Recently, I’ve visited grow/finish facilities that are 12 to 15 years old; some need major repairs and some are in almost new condition. In each instance, the facilities have housed growing pigs for their entire lives, and sometimes both the best and the worst cases were constructed by the same company.

I was reminded of the need for maintenance schedules for equipment installed in swine facilities. When we purchase cars, trucks, tractors or combines, the owner’s manual includes specific recommendations regarding needed maintenance as well as intervals.

Owners take pride in following the schedules since they are designed to extend the functionality of the vehicles or equipment. Failure to perform routine maintenance is a sure way to shorten the item’s useful life.

In the pork industry, we’ve done a poor job of creating and following maintenance schedules. When facilities are constructed, the new owner or operator does not receive a maintenance schedule. You’re left to create your own.

Just as an automobile needs its oil changed every 3,000 to 7,500 miles, equipment in swine facilities, and the facilities themselves, need routine service.

You routinely power-wash the wall fans every time you clean and disinfect a room or barn. However, how often have you cleaned the pit fans? I often find that shutters are broken, fan guards are lying on the ground, fan housings are cracked or broken, and in some cases, blades are shortened by erosion due to the dust and dirt buildup in the housing. Considering that pit fans, as the minimum ventilation fans, operate more hours annually than any other fan in most facilities, and in a harsh environment, routine servicing should be a priority.

Are the shutters and fan housing cleaned frequently (at least two times a year)? If the owner’s manual specifies yearly lubrication of the fan motor, is this done? Can you even locate an owner’s manual for the equipment?

What about greasing the gearing in curtain and ceiling inlet actuators and flex auger bearings? Is this done “when you think of it” or is there an appropiate schedule that will extend the equipment’s functional life?

Do you clean eave soffit inlets of debris twice a year or more to maintain attic inlet openings? If the soffit inlet is covered with smaller than 1-inch by 1-inch bird netting, routine cleaning is a must, as these small openings tend to trap cottonwood-tree lint, dust and debris, reducing the attic inlet area.

What about maintenance of the gravel rodent barrier around facilities, rodent bait boxes along these barriers or even the landscape drainage around the facility? I’ve seen trees growing up next to curtain openings and water draining into pits from rainfall runoff as examples of poor maintenance.

What about preventive maintenance for cement slats, especially around drinkers and feeders? Years ago Jerry Bodman, who was the University of Nebraska Extension agricultural engineer for many years, talked about this. He recommended using concrete sealers when facilities were cleaned.

In my experience, facilities that routinely use concrete sealers around drinkers and feeders have concrete slat surfaces showing minimal wear. While the use of slat-saver mats around feeders has helped minimize concrete erosion around feeders (especially wet/dry and tube feeders), I still see erosion occurring under nipple and cup drinkers. I have pictures of facilities that are only 10 to 12 years old with such severe concrete slat erosion that rebar in the slats is exposed. Of course that’s a serious safety risk to both pigs and people in the facility.

What about the roof steel, especially the drip edge along a building’s southwest corner? In the upper Midwest, winter winds are most often from the northwest. In a production facility this means the wind pressures on a curtain-sided barn “push” air into the curtain along the southeast quadrant and “pull” air out from the southwest quadrant. If the barn has been undersized for fan capacity (20 to 25 cfm per pig total fan capacity in grow/finish facilities, for example), the curtains must open for heat relief when it’s relatively cold outside. This means the warm. moist air most often exhausts from the facility’s southwest quadrant.

This often leads to condensation on the steel roof edge where the warm, moist exhaust air first meets the cold roof steel. In this case, routine maintenance might include adding fans (and ceiling/attic inlets) that will alter the ventilation rate enough to change when the curtain opens relative to outside temperatures.

In breed-to-wean units, a big maintenance item is the evaporative pads. Have the unit managers developed weekly, monthly and yearly maintenance lists?

As you can see from this short list, there are many items that need attention. Better to create a schedule for your facility and perform preventive maintenance than to continually respond to an equipment crisis.