Using a 24’ x 48’ Deep Bedded Hoop Barn for Nursery Age Pigs

By the Minnesota Department of Agriculture - This project was an on-farm study to see how nursery age pigs gain and interact in a deep bedded hoop barn. The amount of bedding, the temperatures inside and outside of the hoop barn, the manure pack temperatures, the feed consumed, and daily rate of gain were monitored.
calendar icon 17 July 2006
clock icon 9 minute read
University of Minnesota

Project Description

We currently farm over 700 acres with Trent’s parents. The majority of the acres is in a corn and soybean rotation with some alfalfa acreage and occasionally oats for feed and bedding. We practice conservation tillage. We raise butcher chickens, cattle, bull calves, and had raised Berkshire-cross hogs in a farrow-to-finish operation. During this project we had 42 sows divided into three groups of 16, 14, and 12. We will no longer be raising pigs because of allergies the entire family developed.

Our initial nursery building was a self-contained liquid manure confinement barn. With this building deteriorating, we decided to move away from a liquid manure system and built a 24’ by 48’ nursery hoop barn with a deep bedded system. We made some modifications to better control drafts when the barn is used as a nursery.

We replaced the tarp ends with steel salvaged from the confinement nursery barn we tore down. We enclosed the “half moons” at the top of the barn that are traditionally left open in a finisher hoop barn. In the nursery setting, these could cause drafts on nursery age pigs. We also put an Accutrack door on the barn instead of the traditional roll-up tarp door because this door can be dropped from the top down to provide fresh air but keep a direct breeze off of the pigs.

The move to hoop buildings provided several advantages. Our whole family has allergies and we wanted to get away from the dust that was associated with our old nursery building and move to a more natural ventilation building. The hoop building also helps us to be a more environment- and neighbor-friendly hog farm. With non-farming neighbors and East Sunburg Lake within 500’ of our building site, we wanted to get away from liquid manure. A hoop barn has many uses: farrowing, nursery, grower, or as a finisher building.

We did notice a big improvement in our allergies when working in this type of building compared to our old confinement barn. Unfortunately, we just cannot tolerate the dust associated with pigs any longer. The hoop barn still fits into our farm’s future because it can be used for many other purposes. We plan to use it for hay and machinery storage, for cattle, and for a training arena to prepare show animals for the local fair.

In this project we studied how nursery age pigs gained weight and interacted in a deep bedded hoop barn. We used the hoop barn as a nursery in all seasons of the year. The amount of bedding, temperatures inside and outside of the building, manure pack temperatures, feed consumption, and daily rate of gain were monitored.


Two groups of hogs were put in the hoop barn in 2002. Table 1 shows the dates, numbers, weights, feed, and labor involved with both groups. Before moving the first group of hogs into the nursery, we spread out one and a half round bales, leaving the other half for the hogs to explore. Approximately two weeks later, another round bale was added and we manually bedded when and where needed, leaving the rest of the bale for them to forage/destroy themselves. All pigs in the first group were brought into the hoop on the same day. We did a little experiment with the second group, putting hogs in the building over three different days to see how they behaved with split mingling. We were very pleased as they did not fight or single out any pig to pick on. The natural environment of foraging, digging, and burrowing seems to keep them quite active and content.

During the hotter months, the temperatures inside the hoop barn were 5°F warmer than the outside temperatures. When the outside temperatures became cooler, the inside temperatures averaged 11°F warmer than the outside temperatures. The manure pack temperatures usually ranged 40 to 60°F warmer than the barn temperature.

We were quite pleased with the hoop barn after our first year. We did not have a single death among either of the two groups that used the barn. The one-pen system is a nice change.

Three groups of pigs used the hoop barns beginning in February. Table 2 shows the dates, numbers, weights, feed, bedding, and labor involved with all three groups. We followed the same routine of spreading bedding as we used last year. Table 2 shows the rate of gain and feed efficiency was better when the weather was warmer outside. Smaller pigs in particular had a better rate of gain in the July group (.98 lb/day) than in either the February (.73 lb/day) or May (.82 lb/day) groups.

When the first group was moved out of the barn in late March, we did not clean out the barn before moving the next group in. We wanted to see if leaving the manure pack affected the next batch of pigs. We did clean the cement slab and any heavily manured spots. As a precaution, the second group of pigs received a water soluble wormer after they were moved in. We did not experience any problems with doing this except, of course, there was more manure to remove after the second group!

We had problems with the second and third groups digging through the bedding into the gravel and dirt. The digging mixed the gravel/clay into the bedding material and a lot of gravel was hauled out when we removed the manure pack. Gravel was added to the floor of the barn after each of these groups. We don’t know why the pigs did this because there was plenty of straw bedding each time. The addition of “toys” such as barrels and old tires reduced the digging a bit.

Differences between indoor and outdoor temperatures were the same as last year. With the manure pack being 40 to 60°F warmer than the barn air temperature, the pigs keeping their sleeping areas dry and cuddling together or up against the round bales, we have not used supplemental heat, calf hutches or extra tarps during either year of our project. We kept the doors closed during the coldest days but opened doors from the top to allow more air circulation on average days. During warm weather, doors are opened from the bottom and left open most of the time.

Three groups of pigs used the hoop barns beginning in November, 2003. Table 3 shows the dates, numbers, weights, feed, bedding, and labor involved for two of the groups. When we decided that we were getting out of pigs because of our allergies, we began culling the sow herd. Our final group of 41 pigs was put in the barn on July 7. They were sold in separate groups to Hmong customers who liked pigs at lighter weights. These pigs gained well with a range of 1.11 to 1.82 lb/day.

There was a lot of digging into the clay pack with Group 1. We cleaned the cement slab often and leveled the high spots of the manure pack as needed. We did not clean out the barn between Groups 1 and 2, worming Group 2 twice as a prevention strategy. We ordered a load of clay after both Groups 2 and 3.

Overall, we were very pleased with the hoop barn as a nursery. With the modifications we made, we never had to supplement heat during the cold weather. The pigs would burrow into the bedding where it was warm. During hot weather, they laid on the cool cement slab or in the dirtier parts of the manure pack. Death losses were minimal. We did not set up a separate pen for the runts and, even though the runts did not catch up to the larger pigs, they seemed to be much more active and healthy than what we used to see in our old confinement barn. The more natural environment of the straw bedded system provided opportunity for the pigs to forage, dig, and explore. Fighting was also reduced compared to our old confinement barn. Because we used a hoop building for a nursery, the pigs adjusted more easily to the finishing hoop barn because it was the same layout only bigger.

There were several challenges and things we would change. Loading pigs out of a hoop barn was always a challenge. We used as many gates as possible to limit the amount of maneuvering rooms the pigs had. If we had this to do over, we would change the vent doors on the barn. We made hinged, treated plywood doors with latches along both sides, thinking that we would open these doors for better air circulation on hot and humid days. With the manure pack and nosy pigs, opening the doors wasn’t a good idea and we never used them. While we will not continue raising pigs, we would recommend this system to others. Hoops are very economical and healthy for animals and people.

Management Tips

1. During the winter, bed the floor of the barn immediately after cleaning to maintain ground heat. If the weather is warm, let the wet spots dry out first before moving bedding into the barn and moving the next group in.

2. Use plenty of bedding so the pigs can burrow without digging in the ground. If they still dig, add “toys” such as old tires or plastic barrels.

3. Do not use corn stalk bales for bedding in a nursery hoop in the winter. Corn stalks do not provide heat. They work fine the rest of the year.

4. Do not be afraid to keep the current manure pack if it is not too dirty or hasn’t gotten too deep. You might want to worm as a precaution.

5. Bi-fold doors are a good investment. You can drop the doors from the top to provide fresh air without allowing a direct breeze on the pigs. Also, use steel for the end walls and enclose the “half moons” for a nursery facility.


Wayne Martin, University of Minnesota Alternative Swine Program, St. Paul, MN
Steve Stassen, Farmer, Kerkhoven, MN

Source: Minnesota Department of Agriculture - June 2006

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