With energy costs rising rapidly, time spent identifying where you can increase barn heating efficiency can pay off in reduced energy costs this winter.

Unlike other inputs, producers have no control over the price of energy inputs including propane, natural gas or heating oil used to heat hog barns and soaring prices can eat away at profits.

Energy audits conducted by Prairie Swine Center, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, identified ventilation and space heating in the grow-finish and nursery rooms as significant contributors to the overall energy consumption in the barn. Pork producers should focus on specific areas and practices in the barn and prioritize conservation strategies which would result in the most significant energy savings.

With an eye on reducing heating bills in nurseries, University of Missouri Extension researchers recently conducted trials measuring energy savings by lowering nursery temperatures by 15 degrees at night. Heating costs were reduced nearly 30 percent and electricity costs 19 percent in the 5-week nursery period.

At these temperatures, pigs grew at the same rate as pigs housed under normal nursery management conditions and did not show any problems with illness at these lower nighttime temperatures.

“We wean at a pretty young age where pigs weigh 10 to 12 pounds, and all the engineering and environmental guides say those pigs need close to 90-degree temperatures,” said Marcia Shannon, MU Extension state swine specialist. “This study reduced the BTUs per pig by around 30 percent, post-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 percentage of savings. “We dropped temperatures 15 degrees, starting five days, post-weaning" according to Shannon.

“It costs approximately $1.50 - $2 to heat each pig in the nursery stage, and we reduced that cost by about 60 cents per pig,” Shannon said. That calculates to a savings of about $600 for every 1,000 pigs during the nursery stage.

“We decided to see how far we could push that,” Shannon said. 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 reduced nocturnal temperatures.

MU studied 90 pigs at temperatures reduced to 71 degrees at night (7 p.m. to 7 a.m.) and compared it to an equal size control group nursery with temperatures set at 86 degrees at night. Each week temperatures were also reduced 3.5 degrees for both normal and reduced temperature groups, a standard practice in normal nursery situations.

“We’re looking at a different type of pig today with a higher rate of heat production than we had back in the late 1980s or early 1990s,” Shannon said. “After the first 14 days in the nursery, we couldn’t get a 15-degree drop at night because the pigs were large enough that they created enough body heat in the buildings.”

Don't overlook proper heater controller and ventilation settings which can also be a source of wasted energy. Mike Brumm, Brumm Swine Consultancy, says he often sees mistakes in controller settings on farms he has visited. "In every instance, I found mistakes in controller settings that cost producers a lot of money," Brumm wrote in a recent blog.

Read Brumm's column which focuses on the importance of proper controller settings to your energy-saving strategies.  

Find more University of Missouri swine research.  

Source: University of Missouri, Mike Brumm