Market conditions have significantly reduced pork production’s profitability in the past couple of years, due in a large part to unprecedented increases in input costs. Although the initial reaction in times like these may be to cut corners to reduce costs, the best plan is to evaluate the various areas of costs and returns, and determine how to more efficiently produce pork. One area to evaluate is energy use and expenses.

There are several areas and opportunities to more efficiently utilize energy, thereby reducing energy costs while making your operation “greener.” With the significant increase in propane costs (it’s more than tripled from a dozen years ago) and electricity, you can reap substantial savings by evaluating and investing in ways to improve your ventilation, heating, lighting and other equipment.

In a typical swine barn, 85 percent to 90 percent of the heat loss is associated with ventilation.  Improper ventilation management, whether it provides too little or too much air exchange, can be costly. However, reducing ventilation rates below recommended minimums in the winter is not the answer.

The first step is to observe pigs to determine whether they are comfortable — pigs lying on their sides and slightly touching each other is ideal. Animals lose heat to the environment via convection (air movement), conduction (contact with floor and wall surfaces), evaporation (moisture), and radiation (surfaces not in contact with). So keep all of those areas in mind when evaluating barns and animal comfort. (See accompanying graphic.)

Many barns I visit during the winter months are kept at too high of a temperature, which wastes propane and throws money out the door. Overheating a 1,000-head nursery by just 4˚F increases annual cost of heating by nearly 50 percent. These costs can be substantial as they are dependent on propane prices.

For grow/finish pigs, keep temperatures on the cool side to stimulate feed intake. Avoiding severe temperature swings (10˚F or more) is more important to maintaining animal comfort and health than is overall temperature. However, if you maintain temperatures below the pig’s comfort zone, any increased feed consumption will be used to maintain the animal’s body temperature, causing feed efficiency to decline.

Check to determine if air is coming into the barn from designed inlets, or elsewhere. Ensure that inlets are set properly and air is not leaking from other sources. Curtains that are improperly adjusted and do not provide adequate overlap (at least 3 inches) when closed can serve to over-ventilate barns. See that heaters and exhaust fans are properly set with each other and that temperature sensors are correctly located. This will help ensure that the pigs’ temperature needs are met during cold winter months without wasting energy. 

Provide enough heater offset (1.5˚F) to prevent overshooting desired temperatures. Having the heater offset too tight can result in exhaust fans kicking in too soon and working alternatively with heaters, which greatly increase energy costs. Oversized heaters are less efficient than properly sized ones and can contribute to overshooting temperature goals and fighting against first-stage fans. Make sure fans are properly sized and the appropriate motor curve is set in the controller. Fans have different efficiency ratings, and some utility companies offer rebates for using more efficient fans.

Evaluating energy costs and opportunities to increase energy efficiencies can greatly reduce production costs while potentially improving animal comfort. For more information on reducing energy and heating costs, you can view a Webinar presented by Jay Harmon, IowaStateUniversity agricultural engineer, by clicking here.