Unlike other inputs, producers have little control over the price of energy inputs including propane, natural gas or heating oil used to heat hog barns, and soaring prices add to overall production costs.

Energy audits conducted by Prairie Swine Center, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, identified ventilation and space heating in grow/finish and nursery rooms as significant contributors to a facility’s overall energy consumption. And, Canadians know a thing or two about winter and cold temperatures. Their suggestion — pork producers should focus on specific areas and practices in the barn, and prioritize conservation strategies that would result in the most significant energy savings.

With an eye on reducing heating bills in nurseries, University of Missouri Extension researchers conducted trials measuring energy savings. They lowered nursery temperatures by 15° F at night and heating costs dropped nearly 30 percent; electricity costs fell 19 percent in the five-week nursery period.

At those temperatures, pigs grew at the same rate as pigs housed under normal nursery-management conditions, and they didn’t show any health problems at these lower nighttime temperatures.

“We wean pigs weighing 10 to 12 pounds, and all the engineering and environmental guides say those pigs need close to 90° F temperatures,” says Marcia Shannon, Missouri Extension swine specialist. “This study reduced the BTUs per pig by about 30 percent after weaning, and we didn’t see any difference in animal performance or health.”

Shannon joined researchers from the University of Minnesota, Ohio State University and South Dakota State University to test lower nocturnal temperatures in several temperate zones. While heating costs were higher in northern states, all locations showed the same savings percentages. “We dropped temperatures 15° F starting five days after weaning,” Shannon points out.

“Heating costs are approximately $1.50 to $2 per pig in the nursery stage, and we reduced that cost by about 60 cents per pig,” she says. That calculates to nearly a $600 savings for every 1,000 pigs during the nursery stage.

“We decided to see how far we could push that,” she adds. Each university conducted two separate tests in winter months between December 2009 and March 2011. Nursery sizes ranged from 50 to 360 pigs, with each university simultaneously raising a group of pigs at “regular” temperatures and the reduced nocturnal temperatures.

Shannon studied 90 pigs where nighttime temperatures dropped to 71° F (7 p.m. to 7 a.m.) and compared the pigs to an equal-size control group where temperatures were set at 86° F. Each week the room temperatures for both the normal and reduced-temperature groups declined by 3.5° F — a standard practice.

Pigs today have a higher heat production rate than those of the late 1980s or early 1990s, Shannon says. “After the first 14 days in the nursery, we couldn’t even accomplish a 15° F drop at night because the pigs were large enough that they created enough body heat in the buildings.”

Also, don’t overlook proper heater controller and ventilation settings.

Mike Brumm, Brumm Swine Consultancy, says he often sees mistakes in controller settings on farms. “In every instance, I found mistakes in controller settings that cost producers a lot of money,” he notes.

You can read Brumm’s column which focuses on the importance of proper controller settings to your energy-saving strategies at http://bit.ly/unNhek.  Find more University of Missouri swine research at http://bit.ly/tiCVAI.