If you’re considering having swine barns sit empty for an extended period of time, closing these facilities involves much more than loading out the pigs and shutting the lights off. “This is especially true if the barns may be brought back into production in the future,” says Mark Whitney, associate professor, University of Minnesota Extension Service. Whitney offers the following tips:
Remove all manure in storage. Gases, such as methane, hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide and ammonia, continue to be produced from the decomposition of manure, even during cold weather. Buildup of methane provides an explosion risk, while other gases are extreme health and safety hazards. Take all necessary precautions while pumping out manure pits, including ensuring adequate ventilation, and attempt to remove all accumulated solids. You may want to consider filling pits up one-third to one-half full with water after removing manure to relieve pressure and stress on pit walls, although this also can increase levels of condensation in the barn.
Thoroughly clean the facilities and equipment. Removing all organic material from the barn, pens and equipment is necessary to minimize deterioration. Manure, animal dander, feed dust, and manure gases can all combine with moisture or condensation on cooler exterior surfaces, resulting in enhanced degradation. Wash all surfaces thoroughly and allow time to dry, removing as much moisture as possible. In addition, grease motors, drive chains, and other moving metallic components to inhibit moisture penetration.
Empty feed lines, feeders and water lines. Feed contains salts and other products that, when combined with moisture, can cause corrosion. Empty all feed lines, feeders and flush feed lines with whole grain, such as corn, to remove as many of the feed particles and salts as possible. Flush and drain water lines, blowing out lines with air, if possible, to remove all water. Also, shut off the main water line coming into the barn, and remove all water orifices, such as nipple water receptacles.
Provide supplemental heat over winter. To prevent flooring and foundation from freezing, and thus deteriorating and potentially losing structural soundness, minimum heat should be provided and maintained over winter months. Frost may crack exterior walls, causing leaks in pits and potentially resulting in structural failure. To ensure proper operation and minimize the cost of heating, have a qualified individual inspect and maintain the heating system.
Maintain ventilation. Minimum ventilation should be provided in empty barns to ensure adequate removal of moisture and gases that may continue to accumulate, either from manure decomposition or heater combustion in the barn. Failure to provide adequate ventilation may result in increased equipment and facility corrosion, or severe injury or death due to carbon monoxide poisoning or hydrogen sulfide asphyxiation. Make sure the facility is reasonably “tight” and that room inlets are operating properly to ensure fresh air is properly introduced and distributed in the barn from designed air inlets. Close and seal sidewall curtains in curtain barns and louvers of large summer operating fans in tunnel or year-round mechanically ventilated barns to prevent backdrafting and leakage of air using insulated panels or heavy plastic.
Allow only one side of the barn to introduce fresh air during the winter. This should be the south side in barns running east to west. This will prevent snow “blow through” in the building attic. Also, check the operation and cleanliness of all minimum ventilation fans. Dirty or rusted shuttles can reduce airflow capacity of a direct drive fan by 40 percent.
Routinely inspect facilities
Empty barns should be periodically checked, Whitney says. Inspections should be conducted weekly during cold weather. Check heating and ventilation systems to ensure they are functioning properly. Continue to bait and check rodent traps to prevent an infestation. Look for signs of water or mold damage, particularly in the attic. These may indicate roof damage, or, if the attic is humid, inadequate distribution of air, suggesting insufficient ventilation.
Finally, before bringing a facility back into production, have all electrical and heating systems inspected by a qualified technician, and thoroughly test all other water and feed systems, equipment and penning for functionality prior to use.
Check out the PorkPod, Whitney will also discuss his tips for preparing swine barns to sit empty during an upcoming Pork Checkoff PorkPod.