Building Maintenance

Ed Barrie, Swine Sow Nursery Specialist at Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs describes how to maintain buildings following temporary depopulation over the winter period.
calendar icon 26 September 2008
clock icon 7 minute read

In the present difficult times in the pork industry, a number of pork producers have chosen to reduce sow numbers or to remove sows completely from their production program. Individual business plans vary from operation to operation and may include renovation of sow facilities to house another class of swine: early weaner, regular weaner or finishing pigs. Some operators have chosen to keep stalls in place and finish feeder pigs to market weight in them. Other producers have chosen to leave the facilities empty for a period of time before restocking the facility with breeding stock. It is this choice to leave the facilities empty that we will address in this article.

Washing and Metal Equipment

The initial step would be to wash the barn completely and care should be taken to ensure that all metal surfaces of gestation or farrowing crates are completely clean. There is plenty of discussion about the application of a disinfectant at this time. If you choose to apply one, try for a product which is not corrosive to metal. Keeping in mind that the facility may be out of use for several years, you should be very careful about introducing any material which would encourage rust or corrosion.

Once clean and dry, all metal surfaces should be sprayed with light weight oil. This includes all sides of all pipes and tubing, inside all hinge tubes and around hinge pins as well as on all latches and fixtures. The purpose of the oil is to slow down or prevent rusting, and you can generally assume bare metal in a pig barn rusts quickly once the livestock are removed. Misting is probably the best way to describe the oil application process.

After the metal is taken care of, take an oil can and thoroughly soak all door hinges and latches as well. The process should be applied to all metal, whether painted, bare, or galvanized, and is best applied as soon as possible after the penning is dry. If it is reasonable to do so, stall gates should be removed - taking care not to mix them together, then the oil applied, especially to the pins and pin holes.

Water System and Drinkers

Following the oiling process, the water system should be shut off and drained completely. Nipple drinkers, if used, should be removed, drained and stored in a warm, dry location. This seems like a lot of work but over a period of time, insects, dust, corrosion and residues from water will build up and the nipple drinkers will have to be removed and cleaned before they can be used again. Bowl drinkers should be emptied and dried. Most of you are aware of the nature of flow control in bowl drinkers and so should ensure that all water is out of the system. The water pump and tank, if they are in the facility, should also be drained, and the pump removed to a warm, dry location.

Electrical System

"The safety of carrying out these procedures is of vital importance to everyone concerned."

The electrical system is probably one of the most difficult items to deal with. It would be best to check with your insurance provider, especially in regards to how much electricity should be left on in a barn not in use.

Controllers that are taken out of service for extended periods of time may not function correctly when brought back into service. Similarly, light switches and wiring connections are susceptible to corrosion. Fan motors are impossible to clean and when taken out of use, often only for a short time, will not operate when power is restored. Some people suggest leaving the power on and cycling all electrical items weekly. It has also been pointed out that an empty barn could be attractive to rodents and this is not a good location for a live electrical system. Again, consult with your insurance carrier.

Pest Control

On the subject of rodents, especially larger ones, make every effort possible to screen fan openings, ventilation openings, doors, windows and any other way of entering the barn. Common pest populations include rats, mice, birds, bees, squirrels, chipmunks, skunks, racoons and insects.

Feeding System

Feed delivery systems need to be given special attention. Suggestions include shutting off the drops and running a quantity of dry, shelled corn heavily soaked in vegetable oil through the tube. The idea is to coat the flighting and the tube with as much oil as possible on the inside. Repeat this process several times if necessary. It may be best to do this before the wash down so there is nothing left in the system when you are done.

Manure System

Manure tanks should have the level of manure lowered to about the level of the water table in the area around the barn. The physics of this lie in the fact that if the level in the tank is below the water table, there will be pressure from the water to force into the tank. This could very quickly lead to cracking or collapsing of wall structures. Similarly, to leave to tank overly full will result in serious outward pressure on the walls, which could also lead to failure, especially if any freezing action occurs.

Other Considerations

The subject of supplemental heat in times of freezing temperatures must also be addressed. Farm buildings in Ontario are generally extremely well built, and stand our climate well as long as they are loaded with animals as a source of heat. Very few, if any, of our buildings were designed or built to be left empty through a winter. The action of frost on concrete is slow but very thorough and totally destructive. Water in and under the concrete will freeze, causing cracks. These cracks during a freeze-thaw cycle will fill with water, then freeze and open up significant cracks. Walls will crack, floors will heave and buildings will be severely damaged in as little as one winter.

To maintain the structural integrity of the facility, the airspace inside the building must be kept above freezing at all times. How much above freezing is open to discussion but at no time should freezing temperatures be recorded inside a facility, including the under barn manure storages.

Safety Procedures

The safety of carrying out these procedures is of vital importance to everyone concerned. Extreme care should be taken if ventilation systems are turned off in facilities with under-barn manure storage. We do not know the consequences of gas build-ups or levels with no ventilation and under no conditions should anyone enter a closed-down facility alone, without qualified back-up support on hand. This point is critical because, human nature being what we are, tends not to think a lot about entering a place we have been in and out of for years, and disregard the fact that the ventilation is no longer working.

September 2008
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