Proper barn ventilation is a vital component of any good farm management plan. Whether you’ve incorporated a natural or mechanical ventilation system in your animal housing, closely monitoring the air exchange can help you avoid preventable and costly damage to your buildings and, more importantly, damage to the health of your livestock and workers. In cold weather, providing adequate ventilation while maintaining comfortable temperatures for your herd can get tricky, but finding the right balance is essential.
Put simply, ventilation consists of a continuous, three-step cycle:
- Fresh air enters a building.
- The air takes on heat, moisture, pathogens, and odor.
- The hot, humid air is exhausted outdoors.
Disrupting this cycle allows indoor humidity levels to increase, along with the concentration of contaminants.
The Risks of Poor Ventilation
Air quality is a critical biosecurity factor in swine production. When stale indoor air isn’t sufficiently diluted with fresh air, ammonia, carbon dioxide, methane, and other gases can accumulate and harm both livestock and workers. Unsafe levels of suspended dust from feed and other sources can develop, posing additional respiratory risks.
Undiluted, humid air also allows pathogens to collect at greater concentrations and live longer, greatly increasing the likelihood of a disease outbreak. Bacteria and mold thrive in this environment as well, adding to the incidence of infection. And it’s not just a risk for your animals — the same humidity can harm buildings as well by causing wood rot and metal corrosion.
Winter Ventilation Done Right
In cold weather, many producers want to close buildings up tight to keep the pigs’ body heat from escaping. That can be dangerous, for all the reasons above, but how much ventilation is enough, and how much is too much? You need to provide warmth, and while some pathogens like humidity, others flourish in overly dry conditions. It all comes down to achieving the minimal ventilation rate that’s right for your facility, which is largely based on room size and the number of hogs and their weights. Next, you’ll need to add supplemental heat to ensure temperatures don’t drop below the pigs’ thermal neutral zone. A properly designed ventilation system for livestock enclosures should maintain a relative indoor humidity of about 60-75%.
If calculating the right minimal ventilation rate sounds complicated, that’s because it can be. Luckily, Osborne’s Agri-Aide ventilation products and Stanfield electric heat pads come with the assistance of our experts. We can help you develop a complete ventilation plan or find solutions to improve or maintain an existing system.
Is adding a system like this a necessary expense? The answer is a firm yes. Of course, farmers have been in the hog breeding and finishing business for centuries, generally before mechanical ventilation or negative pressure ventilation systems were developed. But as with most technological advances in agriculture, energy-efficient and durable farming supplies like Osborne’s Agri-Aide systems and animal heat pads allow producers to maximize feed-to-gain ratios and minimize mortality rates. The resulting performance benefits and savings provide a return on investment that’s hard to argue with. Plus, our ventilation, heat mat, and other products are 100% made in the USA and meet ISO-certification standards.
Pigs can become stressed in response to many factors. Avoiding cold stress at the expense of air quality is simply trading one stress for another, so resist the urge to close up the barn too tightly during a cold snap. Your pigs — and your profits — will thank you!