Seven ways to reduce energy costs

By Jay Harmon, Ph.D., P.E., Iowa State University and Mark Boggess, Ph.D., National Pork Board - The high price of energy will impact many activities on the farm. Not only are prices at the gasoline pump high, but as oil and energy costs rise, natural gas, propane, and fertilizer will be more expensive, too.
calendar icon 31 October 2005
clock icon 4 minute read

Swine producers should consider ways to save energy costs and maximize efficiency without adversely impacting production. Here are some ways:

  • Most of the heat loss from a livestock building occurs through ventilation. However, producers should resist the temptation to under-ventilate their buildings. This will result in higher humidity and gas levels and may create health problems, costing more than the fuel saved. Fine-tuning the ventilation system is a more appropriate approach. Maintenance is important to be sure things are operating at peak efficiency.

  • Make sure all fans and inlets are cleaned regularly and are well maintained. Fans lose efficiency as they become dirty or if the shutter is damaged or plugged with dirt. Inlets should close tightly when not used. Seal openings where heat can be lost and where moisture seeps into walls, which will slowly rot the building’s materials and damage the insulation. Heaters should be cleaned and serviced regularly so they run at peak efficiency.

  • Make sure all curtains are tight, and overlap the opening completely when curtains are closed. Make sure all holes are patched. Inspect curtains regularly and keep them maintained. One night with a curtain malfunction will be very expensive if the heater runs to make up for the open curtain. Consider upgrading to an insulated curtain if warranted, particularly in wean-to-finish buildings.

  • Ventilation control is important as well. Most controllers will not let second-stage fans and heaters run at the same time; however, they may cycle when they should not, wasting heat. Spend time in your building observing fans and heaters coming on and off. If a heater runs and then a second stage fan comes on, you should exam the offsets on the heater setting. This is a frequent problem with heaters that are too large for the room, or in older controllers that are not set properly.

  • Other ways to save energy include watching the controllers’ set-point closely. Pigs should be comfortable to slightly cool. Many swine nurseries, for instance, are heated too much. Set points will vary, depending on drafts and other factors that affect pig comfort, but many nurseries for pigs weaned at 3 to 4 weeks can be set as low as 80 degrees Fahrenheit after the pigs have adjusted for a day or two post-weaning and are eating aggressively. After the pigs have been weaned, nursery temps should be lowered 3 to 4 degrees per week. Likewise, finishing pigs can tolerate temperatures as low as 58 degrees in slatted buildings as they approach market weight. Sows may need slightly warmer temperatures if they are in stalls and unable to huddle together.

  • Other energy-saving measures include reducing the number of trips to town for supplies. Combine trips when possible, and don’t drive the gas-guzzler truck to pick up a nail. Attempt to have full loads of feed delivered, and try to market full loads of pigs at one time.

  • Reevaluate the value of your manure, particularly for nitrogen. Nitrogen prices are also increasing as energy costs rise. Manage manure whenever possible to maximize nitrogen value for your cropping systems. Conserve fertilizer costs by utilizing manure as efficiently as possible.

These suggestions may have a small impact individually, but in combination, they may decrease your energy costs significantly during this time of high prices. Other ideas for conserving may be found at this Iowa State University Web site:

Source: Reproduced Courtesy of North Carolina State University Swine Extension - May 2005

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