Curtains should overlap fascia
by 2 to 3 inches to prevent air
leakage. Curtain gears also
need to be greased routinely
Curtains should overlap fascia by 2 to 3 inches to prevent air leakage. Curtain gears also need to be greased routinely

As winter fades into the background don’t forget to add barn maintenance to your to-do list. What’s more, March is a good time to prepare for the hot months ahead.

Barn maintenance pays off in two ways: reducing operating costs as well as preventing potential pig health challenges.

Items on your maintenance list should include ventilation, waterers and hoses, motors, feeders, sprinklers, heaters, curtains and more. While the list is a long one, prioritizing your maintenance chores can help make it manageable.

Maintain a Healthy Environment

Since maintaining an efficient and healthy environment within barns is key to holding down operating costs and preserving pig health, start your maintenance check-up with the ventilation system.

Check all fans and air inlets to make sure they are functioning properly and are free of debris that collects on and around them. Ventilation priorities to check before hot weather begins include cleaning all fan blades, shutters and hoods.  (See sidebar.)  Always turn off the electricity to the fans before you begin. 

Dirty fan shutters can reduce ventilation performance up to 40 percent. Fans that aren’t used during winter months should have been covered, and now that needs to be removed before cleaning and testing. 

Air inlets are an overlooked component in most mechanically ventilated systems. Make sure inlet capacity is sufficient for the space and corresponds to exhaust fan requirements. “With actuated inlets, the cables can stretch after extended use and require adjustment,” says Jay Harmon, agricultural and biosystems engineer, Iowa State University. “Ceiling inlet actuators also should be greased to prolong their life and help ensure proper function.”

Although heaters will be running less as summer approaches, they need to be checked and serviced regularly. “Heaters are rarely cleaned as often as they should be,” Harmon says. Check for relay contact corrosion and clean or replace parts if necessary. Gas-heater pilots need to be kept clean and can be turned off for the summer to reduce energy expense.

Since curtains that sag or have holes lead to excessive energy use, always check them over in spring and fall.  “A sagging curtain can cause a draft on pigs, reduce performance and increase energy use,” says Steve Matthis, dean of agricultural programs, Sampson Community College, Clinton, N.C.  

Patch any holes or tears in the curtains and be certain they are adjusted to overlap where needed and that curtain ends are enclosed properly. “If the curtain material is old and brittle, repair may be difficult because the material is so weak,” says Joe Zulovich, agricultural engineer, University of Missouri Extension. “If the material is still strong, duct tape can work pretty well.” Some curtain manufacturers do offer repair kits.

“Check the curtain-drop ropes and make sure that the curtain is getting pulled up tight all the way,” Zulovich adds. “All ropes should be tight when that curtain is closed, so that it doesn’t sag in places.”

Water plays an essential role in pig production and you need to check waterers, hoses and connections regularly — not just in spring. Repair any water lines or drinkers that are leaking to reduce the facility moisture levels as well as water use and pit levels.

Poor waterer performance can lead to reduced water intake, which can lead to all sorts of pig performance problems, Harmon says. Check waterers to ensure they’re delivering the proper flow rate which can become restricted from mineral deposits and other issues. You may have to clean or replace water lines or other mechanisms.

Pit fans may be the most neglected items in swine facilities. They run more hours annually than any other fan in most facilities and operate in a harsh environment. They need to be cleaned at least twice a year. Any gaps around pit fans can reduce ventilation capacity and cause short-circuiting. Always check seals following each time the pits are accessed to ensure that covers were replaced correctly.

Following cold weather, check building soffits and open up closed vents. “These openings should be covered with wire or plastic mesh not finer than ¾-inch to keep birds out of the building,” says Steve Pohl, agricultural engineer, South Dakota State University Extension. Check for insulation or other material that may have plugged the openings over winter. Pohl recommends soffits be checked every six months and kept free of dust and debris.

Make sure sprinkler system solenoids are activated. Check water-supply lines and clean or replace non-functioning emitters or nozzles. During extended periods of hot weather, check the system’s operating pressure at least weekly.

Test alarm and emergency backup systems four times a year or as required by insurance providers to verify that curtain drops work properly. Be sure to sign and date a log form, which many insurance providers require should a claim arise. Verify that the generator transfer switch works and document the test history.    

Repair or Replace?

The answer to that question typically is “it depends.” Some say if the repair cost is more than 50 percent of the replacement cost, then it should be replaced. Harmon qualifies that rule by adding it also depends on the wear of the entire piece in question. “For instance, if there’s only one part that wears on a feeder or heater, and all the other parts are pretty much like new, then it might be good to repair it.”

The risk also needs to be considered. “If there are high risks associated with failure or breakdown, such as heating or cooling failure, or backup generator failure, then perhaps replacement is the preferred option,” he adds.

Routinely measuring the output of mechanical equipment and systems, including fans, heaters, inlets and evaporative cooling, can keep you informed if devices are performing at peak efficiency. It can also signal when something needs repair, adjustment or maintenance.

Equipment that is not operating at or near ideal levels can add to production costs as well as decrease pig performance. Granted, proper facility maintenance may require a special team of experienced employees, but it will save money and headaches and cut down on more-expensive emergency repairs.

Fan Maintenance is no Hot Air

Since dirt and debris buildup on fans and shutters can shorten the life of the fan and reduce efficiency, maintenance on the assemblies is important, according to Steve Matthis, dean of agricultural programs, Sampson Community College, Clinton, N.C.  

Matthis has long studied swine building maintenance needs and recommends fans, motors and shutters be cleaned and maintained routinely. He provides the following checklist as a guideline to efficient fan operation:

1. Clean fan motor using forced air.

  • Do not use a pressure washer on fans.
  • Check all bolts and clips for signs of damage.

2. Clean fan shutters and louversusing a brush.

  • Replace bent louver sections.
  • Use graphite on light louver bushings.

3. Grease bearings every four to six months using a small amount of grease.

  • Reducing friction increases efficiency.

4. Check pulleys for wear.

  • A V-pulley must have smooth sides.
  • The belt must ride slightly out of the top of the pulley.
  • Performance can be reduced 25 percent or more if belts sink down into the pulley just 1/8 to 3/16 inch.

5. Check belt tension and adjust if needed.

If fans are old and need replacing, Matthis suggests that you consider replacing them with more energy-efficient models. Check with your electrical provider as some may offer rebates for highly efficient models. Use ventilation laboratory results to choose fans with high cfm-per-watt output. (Go to