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Power Failures: Is Your Operation Ready?

17 January 2013

Every operation should have a tested emergency power back-up plan in place to keep animals and farm operation safe in case of power loss, writes Douglas Richards, Swine Grower-Finisher Specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) in the latest 'Pork News and Views' newsletter.

The unexpected loss of power can have tragic results in confinement barn operations. The majority of hog operations rely on electricity to provide ventilation, water, heat, feed and lights. Given the time of year, size of animal and type of barn (power ventilated or natural) problems can occur in a short time without power.

One usually associates power outages with adverse weather and can adjust schedules and be more aware of/ready for a potential loss of power. What about the unexpected power outages that occur on the nicest day of the summer, when the traffic accident takes a hydro pole out on the next concession, a faulty main breaker in the feed room finally heats up enough to trip the main panel or the pole mounted hydro transformer decides to blow up? These accidents can all result in an unexpected and prolonged power outage at times when one does really not expect trouble.

"Does your operation have a power loss plan?"

The loss of power to your barn can occur anytime and without notice. Every operation should have a tested emergency power back-up plan in place to keep your animals and farm operation safe.

To help reduce the risk of loss, develop an emergency power back up plan tailored to your operation. The plan must be accessible to family/staff, workable and tested. Having only one person on farm knowing how to hook up the generator, throw the hydro disconnect, start the tractor and bring power back on safely may cause problems if that person is not there when needed.

If you have an automatic start-up generator, that replaces the need to have a person to switch to auxiliary power but a plan/checklist that is accessible to family/staff should be used for reference, or if problems occur when the unit kicks in. There are cases when the generator kicked in, yet a panel breaker had tripped out, and the barn's fans were not working. It is always best to check the barns and all powered equipment after the generator has been connected/ disconnected to make sure the power is supplied to the required sources.

The plan should contain the instructions/ checklist for the back-up power generation being used, i.e. a portable trailer-mounted PTO unit or stationary automatic start up unit. The plan should be easy to locate and accessible.

Items might include which tractor to use (1000 pto versus 540), checking the tractor fuel/oil levels, panel breakers/fans/heaters are all on/working after the back-up power kicks in and that they work again once the barn goes back to regular power, naturally ventilated barn drop curtains or panic doors that opened on power loss are reset. Plans should also contain the routine maintenance schedule requirements/system checks and dates the unit was tested.

Family/staff should all participate in training on the type of unit being used. Reading the checklist during the day is not the same as hooking up the generator to the pole transfer switch at 3am on a stormy winter night.

By having a plan in place and training family/ staff on the use of the plan, power loss situations, while never routine, should be easy to implement when needed and will keep the animals and barns out of harm's way.

For more information on stand-by generators, follow the OMAFRA links [click here].

Some points to ponder before you are left without power:

  • Does your operation have a power loss plan?
  • Is it easy to locate?
  • How many people in the operation have been trained to deal with a loss of power situation?
  • If it is 2am or 2pm and the power has gone out at your hog operation, how are you notified?
  • When was your standby generator last tested and switching equipment cycled through a disconnect reconnect situation?
  • Is your standby generator sized properly for the load demand?
  • Have you added any new electrical loads (new equipment/renovations/additions) that the standby generator is to provide power for since the unit was purchased?

January 2013

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