You walk through your hog buildings every day, but how often do you look at what’s really going on. Sharpening your visual senses is key to maintaining your buildings and equipment. To do it right, you need to do a regular maintenance checkup on your operation.

Doug Beach, manager of Progress Pig near Syracuse, Neb., has his own monthly maintenance checklist. Here’s a look at one. It does change slightly each month depending on the season:

1. Empty feed bins.

2. Check the nipple waterers, hoses and brackets.

3. Check all fire extinguishers.

4. Make sure all flush tanks are flowing properly.

5. Measure the lagoon depth.

6. Take a water meter reading.

7. Lubricate the oil plungers on the pressure washer.

8. Start the generator.

9. Dismantle and clean the market hog scale.

10. Wash the medicine room and sow wash area; sweep cobwebs in the hallways.

11. Clean and winterize all gestation and grower building fans.

12. Send feed samples from gestation, pre-nursery and grower barns to the laboratory for analysis.

His list also includes checking mouse traps and bait placement, but he does that on a weekly basis.

From this list, you may find that your operation needs some work. Let’s begin with the building and work from there.

Holding it together
The building provides the foundation that holds everything together. For starters, take a walk around each of your buildings and look for structural defects.

Check for cracks in the concrete, split boards and peeling paint, and be sure to inspect the siding. Jerry Bodman, University of Nebraska agricultural engineer, recommends having no gaps larger than one-quarter inch between the wall siding and roof, foundation or other surface of the building to help prevent rodent damage.

Keep rodents under control with gravel walkways around the buildings, keep weeds and grass mowed, pick up trash and debris, and set traps or bait. Check traps and bait every few days.

As you inspect the buildings, take a close look at the fans. Bodman suggests using hoods on fans facing north or west to prevent high winds from causing reversible airflow.

Next, check the fan guards. Do you have some sort of wire mesh to protect the blades and keep foreign objects out? Make sure the wire is small enough to keep out fingers but large enough so it doesn’t collect dust, which reduces fan capacity. Bodman recommends not using mesh smaller than one-half inch, with one-inch mesh being better for fans.

You should clean heating units before you need to use them. The same goes for drippers and foggers. Other things to check are fire extinguishers, flush tanks, water meters and generators.

Not only are these smart maintenance tips, they also will make your buildings a more pleasing place to work and live near.

Managing your manure system
How you manage your manure handling system has a significant impact on the indoor air quality.

No matter what kind of system you have ù pull-plug, shallow-pit or a flush system ù frequently remove manure from the pigs’ living space, urges Joe Zulovich, University of Missouri agriculture engineer. This improves air quality by reducing the amount of odors and gases in the building. Your ventilation system assists with this as well. (For more ventilation tips, watch for Part 2 of this story in the February issue of PORK’98.)

Bodman recommends checking to be sure manure storage areas and gutters are sealed at each end to prevent air from moving between rooms or buildings.

Zulovich has a few other ideas for maintaining your manure handling system. In general, monitor gravity drain lines to ensure that they remain open and intact. Regularly clean all recycle pumps and lines to remove any buildup.

Bodman notes that pit fans usually aren’t maintained well because they’re located on the outside of the building and you can easily forget about them. So the key is to make it a routine. Jay Harmon, Iowa State University agricultural engineer, suggests cleaning fans every time you empty a room and are disinfecting it for another group of pigs. For those rooms or buildings that aren’t regularly cleared out, such as a gestation area, clean the pit fans every three months.

Six buildings comprise the 500-sow farrow-to-finish Progress Pig operation that Doug Beach manages. Some of them have 6-foot-deep, pull-plug manure handling systems, while the others have flush gutters. He flushes the pull-plug systems, and the pits are emptied each time a room is washed.

If you have a lagoon or earthen storage, look for soft spots around the perimeter and monitor liquid levels. These are leakage clues. Check to see that the pipes aren’t backed up and aeration systems are working. Beach checks the manure systems almost daily to make sure they’re not plugged.

Harmon also recommends inspecting the berms for erosion, rodent damage, weed and small tree growth or other structural flaws. You should check the lagoon fencing and gate lock for damage.

Watch your step
Providing safe and comfortable flooring for your pigs has a big impact on performance.

Beach says his floors range from all-wire flooring in the farrowing room; plastic flooring in the hot nursery; solid concrete and wire slat in the cold nursery, gestation and grower buildings; and concrete in the finisher.

Wire flooring develops holes when it starts to wear out, Beach notes. This usually starts under the feeders or waterers because of excess wear and salts. To prevent this, Bodman suggests using high-carbon steel because it’s less corrosive. However, it is harder to maintain.You have to cut it with a torch. And it may cost extra upfront.

With concrete floors, if you notice rough surfaces, you’ve got a problem. It’s more difficult to clean, encouraging disease transmission, and it’s harder on the pigs’ feet. Watch for changes in your pigs’ dunging patterns; they may be avoiding abrasive areas.

Another way to spot concrete problems is if the edges are starting to crack. This can be dangerous. If the crack is big enough, a pig can get its foot caught and break a leg.

Cracking can also occur directly under the wall. To combat this, Beach installs one-quarter-inch angle iron along the bottom of the walls to cover the cracked areas.

Plastic-coated wire flooring tends to cause sanitation problems, Bodman says. Once the wire breaks away from the plastic, it’s hard to keep clean and can harbor diseases. You must replace it.

Keep water flowing
Waterers, whatever the type, can cause headaches if you don’t maintain them properly.

Beach or an employee checks the waterers at least three times a week. If they’re not working properly, the defective part is immediately replaced.

Harmon says it’s good to check the flow rate about once a month by seeing how long it takes to fill a cup. Sometimes it’s deceiving if you see water coming out of a waterer. You may think it’s working, but the flow rate may be inadequate.

If you have cup waterers, make sure there’s no spoiled feed sitting in the cup and that the trigger device is working properly.

As for troughs, if the system has a float device, Harmon says to make sure it’s shutting on and off properly.

If it’s a timer system, observe it to make sure the timing is correct to meet the pigs’ seasonal water needs.

Not only can poorly maintained waterers hamper pig performance, they increase cost and fill your manure storage system faster. For example, Zulovich says, if a nipple waterer is leaking at the rate of one drop every second, about 6 gallons of water can leak from it in a day.

Limit feed waste
Feed waste can significantly reduce your profitability. Check feeders daily to ensure they’re properly adjusted to prevent waste. Beach says to make sure the cranks and dividers aren’t broken, otherwise small pigs may be able to get in the feeders and create feed waste.

Regularly clean out spoiled feed and manure from the feeders. Make sure feed flows freely but doesn’t pile up in the cup or holder.

You also need to check for rust. If it’s truly stainless steel, it won’t rust. Here’s a hint from Bodman: If a magnet sticks to the feeder, then it’s not 100 percent stainless steel.

Another tip is to regularly maintain the drop tube. If it’s not tightly in place, you could fill the pit with feed.

When you are using an auger, check the trigger device to see that it’s shutting off at the right time.

If you store feed in bins, always be sure the feed flows freely and that bin lids are shut tight to prevent spoilage. “I make sure the bins are empty and cleaned out each month,” Beach says. “That’s pretty important to avoid a buildup of mycotoxins or sour feed.”

Avoid the shock
If you’re building a new facility, all wiring must comply with the National Electrical Code, Bodman stresses. All equipment and electrical boxes must be corrosion-resistant, waterproof and dustproof. Light fixtures need to have a watertight design.

If the building is already in place, check the conduits to make sure there are no gaps for moisture buildup. If you have covers on the outlets, make sure they close tightly. Also look for corrosion on outlets and service as needed.

Bodman also recommends using only plug-and-cord connections equipped with waterproof fittings, such as a plastic cover to protect the plug connection. And use all surface-mounted equipment.

Beach checks his heat lamps in the farrowing rooms to look for loose wiring, corrosion on the plug and cracked ceramic near the bulb inlet. He also looks for frayed cords, which can be a fire and shock hazard. Do the same for heat mats. Check them for exposed wires and to see that they’re working properly. If you find these problems with heat lamps or mats, replace them immediately.

Lastly, make sure the pig environment is free from stray voltage. This may hamper the pigs’ eating and drinking habits. It can be caused by a grounding flaw, incorrect wiring, a short in a heat lamp or heat mat, or loose wiring to fans. Bodman suggests calling a certified electrician to check for stray voltage if you suspect a problem.

As you can see, building performance depends on proper maintenance. So take the time to do a checklist to save yourself hassles and money.

Editor’s note: This is Part 1 of a two-part series.