Part of a successful strategy involves spreading hog facility maintenance tasks across different timelines to keep them from becoming overwhelming.
While some hog facility maintenance steps should be part of your daily routine, other steps are best incorporated into a weekly schedule or even conducted on a monthly, quarterly or annual basis.
Anytime you do a facility walk-through, look for and make note of any repairs that need further attention, whether it is on the list or not. Better yet, have a way to boldly mark the spot as a reminder to come back to when you have the time and equipment to address the repair – or hire someone who can.
Weekly Maintenance Checks
Just as you might wean pigs or send hogs to market weekly, conducting a walk-through to check on the facility is part of keeping pig flows and your operation on track.
To help with this effort, Pork Checkoff has provided a checklist to check against your existing weekly routine.
Download and Print Hog Facility Checklists
Feed and Water
- Inspect inline water filters to ensure no buildup that can plug the drinkers. Water quality can impact the pigs’ health and productivity.
- Check feed bins for feed bridging; break up if needed.
- Check feed-hopper-level switches and proximity drop tubes to ensure they are not sticking or creating feed buildup.
- Check feed timers.
Ventilation and Heaters
- Check for loose or worn fan belts, especially in the summer. Replace as needed.
- Clean fan blades, louvers and shrouds for optimal airflow. Make sure they are in place and not broken.
- Check farm emergency alarm system and backup generators.
- Check curtain safety drop and thermostat to check for proper operation.
- Ensure the curtain falls freely due to power loss or the emergency temperature is met.
- Check heater ignitor for proper glow and listen for smooth fan operation.
General Site and Safety
- Check manure system lift stations for excess solids or debris and clean accordingly. Note: Never ever enter a lift station without a breathing apparatus.
- Run backup generators and transfer switches.
- Check rodent control; replace or refill bait stations.
- Ensure areas around barns and walkways are clear of debris and obstructions.
- Verify that building, yard and security lights are working properly.
- Inspect loading chutes for worn flooring, sidewalls, cleats, cables, winches and pulleys.
- Inspect penning for broken parts, loose T-bolts and legs.
Practical Prevention Ideas
“I think about maintenance this way – daily items are things that if they fail, you have dead pigs,” says Jay Harmon, agricultural engineer and associate dean of Extension at Iowa State University (ISU). “Weekly items, if they fail, pig performance might be hurt, but it won’t be a tragedy.”
Here are some practical steps to apply to the checklist, whether they are done on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. These steps will head-off longer term repairs and make overall maintenance easier.
Rodents can do serious damage to insulation, wiring, curtains and the ventilation system, not to mention pose a herd-health risk. Kris Kohl, ISU Extension agricultural engineering specialist, advises checking building for cracks and crevices where rodents might enter and use spray foam to seal things up.
“A 3-foot rock barrier around a building’s perimeter prevents mice from hiding along the facility and also makes mowing easier,” he adds. “Then, keep grass mowed low around buildings and don’t allow trash to build up.”
Not doing so gives rodents places to hide and opportunities to find spots to enter buildings. “If you have bird-netting up, make sure it’s secure and clean it periodically,” Kohl says. Also, be sure to keep rodents and birds away from stored feed and clean up spills.
Some weekly items should be emphasized more during certain times of the year. For example, summer storms are unpredictable, making alarm-system and back-up generator checks a smart weekly task, Harmon says. “In the winter, if you lose power, it’s not good but you have some time before it would potentially result in death loss.”
Checking curtains and fixing any holes is another part of a diligent rodent-control program. Other ventilation checks should include fan belts, blades and louvers to ensure they’re clean and not broken or out of place.
To keep dust and debris off fan components, the ISU Extension ag engineers advise cleaning with a soft brush or broom, compressed air or possibly a garden hose. Of course, always follow the manufacturer’s cleaning recommendations, including whether or not low- or high-pressure water can be used and if the motor is rated for direct water contact.
Kohl points out that just one inch of dust on fan shutters can reduce airflow by up to 40%. Just as important is any dust buildup on the fan motor. It can insulate the motor and prevent proper cooling, thereby shortening its life.
Another fan issue to watch for is improper fan belt tension and alignment. If it’s bad, it greatly reduces fan efficiency. For example, a 48-inch fan with a 3-inch pulley worn just ¼ inch can reduce the fan airflow by more than 20%. Improper belt tension can reduce fan efficiency by more than half. Because belt-driven fans are used for hot weather, improper operation can increase animal heat stress.
ISU offers more detailed ventilation maintenance tips in this fact sheet: Swine Building Ventilation System Maintenance and Troubleshooting Tools.
Other Overlooked Areas
Harmon points out that areas on the outside of buildings can be easy to overlook, so each week schedule a walk-around at the end or beginning of the day. For fans, it’s good to check during peak use. For example, observing fan shutters can signal fan performance issues; a fan on full speed should have shutters that are fully or straight open.
Shower facilities and laundry are two areas that are often neglected. Keeping them clean and working properly can have a positive impact on employee satisfaction as well as pig health, but there also are safety considerations.
“You want to ensure that water heaters are vented properly and that gases are not back-drafting into the worker area,” Harmon says. “Be sure there’s a working carbon monoxide detector in the area.” Washers and dryers get heavy use and it’s important to clean lint out of the dryer as buildup can start a fire.
Harmon advises that one person should be assigned daily and weekly maintenance checks, even if those jobs rotate to others periodically. “If maintenance is everybody’s responsibility, it’s no one’s responsibility.”