The Basics of Swine Barn Maintenance


The transition in the swine industry to confinement production, where extensive mechanical systems are used automate many routine processes, has created new management needs and challenges. These mechanical systems wear and are prone to failures; therefore, they must be maintained to keep the facility functioning correctly. The cost of the repairs and maintenance can vary widely based on the maintenance program followed and the original equipment installed. Iowa State Extension estimates that the cost of repairs and maintenance annually is 1.5% of the barns original cost, although the type of maintenance program is unknown (Christensen, 2019). To minimize the cost and maximize the barn’s efficiency and lifespan, a maintenance programs must be created and implemented. The different electromechanical systems in a barn (ventilation, feed, water, etc.) all have components that could lead to system failure, thereby having a negative impact on production and pig welfare. For example it has been noted that a feed outage lasting 24 hours can cost at least $1.00 per head in finishing situation (Hollis, 2006). This could be caused by an equipment failure in the feed system and the costs would likely increase rapidly if compounded with multiple equipment failures.


  • What are the different types of maintenance programs?
  • What are the costs associated with different maintenance programs?
  • What are recommended maintenance tasks?
  • What are the common areas for swine barn maintenance based on producer information?

Types of Maintenance Programs

Before covering the maintenance needs of individual components, we will start with the type of maintenance programs and the relative costs associated with each. Depending on your specific operation, a different type of maintenance program may be justifiable due to the negative consequences of equipment failures.

Reactive Maintenance Programs

Reactive maintenance is when equipment is operated until it fails. At that point, the equipment is either repaired or replaced. This approach is commonly known as a “firefighting” approach to maintenance. In practice, it is common to have temporary repairs made to keep equipment operational while permanent repairs are delayed. It allows a company to have minimal manpower for maintenance tasks and has the lowest cost to keep equipment running. The downside to this approach is that the demand for maintenance and the impact on production is unpredictable.

A reactive maintenance program would be appropriate to use for systems or components that are not critical to the operation, such that if a failure occurs, immediate production or animal welfare issues are avoided. For example, gate repairs are a common reactive maintenance item.

Preventative Maintenance Programs

Preventive maintenance is a type of program that is based on the use of the equipment. It looks at the interval of breakdowns for a piece of equipment and plans maintenance activities within the interval to prevent the failure. These might include part lubrication, replacement, and cleaning or adjustments. The benefits of preventative maintenance are reduced probability of equipment failures and extended lifespan. The downside is the need to perform maintenance at regular intervals which adds costs and labor needs. A preventive maintenance program would be a common program suggested by equipment manufacturers.

A preventative maintenance program is appropriate for systems that are considered critical for production such as ventilation, feed system and water systems. The value of the preventative maintenance is the reduction in failures that could cause negative production and animal welfare issues. Although if production impacts are substantial, a more aggressive maintenance program is warranted to further mitigate the risk of equipment failures.

Predictive Maintenance Programs

Predictive maintenance is based on the “as-is” condition of equipment. This type of program commonly uses diagnostic instruments to monitor the condition of equipment. The condition of the equipment might be quantified by the temperature, vibration, noise, power consumption, and/or lubrication. Maintenance activities are performed when there is evidence that the equipment has worn. The advantage of predictive maintenance is decreasing the probability of equipment failures and limiting tasks to only when the equipment is worn and in need of maintenance. The disadvantage is the added costs and complexity of the diagnostic equipment for the systems.

A predictive maintenance system is warranted when the impact of equipment failures has a high impact on production and animal welfare that is not deemed acceptable. Examples include backup generators, air filtered ventilation systems, and air-conditioned ventilation systems.


What Are Common Maintenance Tasks in a Swine Barn?

Typically, in a swine facility, the feed, water, cleaning systems (power washers) and ventilation systems will have components that are prone to failures. There are other components of a barn that will wear related to animal handling such as gates, chutes, pens, etc. The more automated systems will include more mechanical and electrical components that are prone to failing. Each barn will be unique as to what equipment is installed. The manufacturer’s guidelines on preventative maintenance should be followed at a minimum for equipment. Most commonly these specifications will include lubrication of bearings, tightening of belts, and overall inspections of systems.

Ventilation System Maintenance Tasks

Table 1 presents common ventilation system components in general and the maintenance tasks that should be completed with the recommended period, Figure 1.


Table 1. Common ventilation maintenance tasks for swine barns.

Equipment Maintenance Tasks Frequency for Tasks
Fans (Figure 1b and 1f) Clean dust from shutters and housing

Grease bearings

Adjust or replace belts




Monthly or as needed

Inlet/Curtain Machines (Figure 1a) Grease units

Adjust stops



Inlets (Figure 1d) Adjust cable attachment or weights

Check for seals to ceiling or wall




Curtains (Figure 1e) Inspection of system

Lubricate actuator

Curtain replacement




Eave openings Inspection and cleaning Monthly
Heaters (Figure 1c) Inspect and clean Monthly when in use, follow manufacturer’s recommendations for other tasks
Backup Generator Test functionality, routine maintenance weekly and manufacturer’s recommended interval


Figure 1. Common ventilation maintenance tasks for swine barns. Source: National Pork Board. (a) inspection of curtain machine pulleys and stops to be done semi-annually, (b) greasing bearings on a belt driven fan to be done monthly. (c) inspection of heater to be done monthly during heating season, (d) inspection on inlets to be done semi- annually. (e) inspection of curtain for wear to be done semi-annually, (f) cleaning of fan shutters to be done monthly.



Feed and Water

Table 2 provides common maintenance tasks related to the feed and water systems. The maintenance tasks will be dependent on the type of systems used. For example, chain-disk feed delivery tends to have more maintenance tasks over feed delivery systems that use flex-augers. Regardless of the system used the feed lines are a common maintenance item that will need to be monitored closely.


Table 2. Common feed and water system maintenance tasks for swine barns.

Equipment Maintenance Tasks Frequency for Tasks
Feeders Inspect Weekly
Waterer Inspect

Clean end units



Feed lines (Figure 2a) Lubricate bearings, etc.




Feed system motors Inspect




Feed bins (Figure 2b) Inspect

Lubricate feed line bearings



Figure 2. Common maintenance tasks for feed and water systems on swine barns. Source: National Pork Board. (a) lubricating bearings on feed system to be done monthly, (b) inspection of feed bins for feed leakage to be done weekly.


Housing: Gates and Pens

The common items that require maintenance tasks for housing will include the gates, concrete slats, and chutes. Each of these items will require routine inspections. The frequency of repair is dependent of the quality of the material used, finish, and wear from use. The best practice for concrete slat maintenance is to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on when to and how to repairs chips or cracks.

Manure and Mortality Management

Depending on the type of manure storage and handling system, the maintenance tasks will vary widely. For example, deep pits will require minimal maintenance, weekly inspections. Whereas shallow pits with either a flush or scraper system the maintenance tasks are more involved. These tasks include lubricating the bearings on pulleys, actuators, motors, and pumps. The same is said on mortality management systems. If mortalities are handled on-farm (composting, incineration) there will be maintenance tasks involved with the additional equipment necessary. For both manure and mortality management these maintenance tasks should be carefully considered to reduce the frequency of equipment failures that could leave to discharges of manure or leachate from the facility and site.

Common Categories Based on Producer Data

For this maintenance study, field data were collected during a 2-year timeframe from a Midwest US integrator (Hoff, 2017). The maintenance tasks were categorized as pig comfort (ventilation system), basic needs (feed and water), and pig handling (gating, chutes). From this the breakdown in maintenance activities were identified. This study lacked the frequency of the activities for an individual site, but it does highlight where to prioritize maintenance programs (preventative and predictive). For all the maintenance activities, pig comfort tasks accounted for 22%, basic needs accounted for 61%, and pig handling accounted for 17%.


Different maintenance programs come with different costs and benefits to swine producers. Reactive maintenance is the lowest cost and labor need, preventative maintenance is the common recommendation from equipment manufacturers with moderate costs, and predictive maintenance has the highest costs, but will likely reduce the number of equipment failures. While reactive maintenance is typically the least expensive overall, the potential for negative impacts to production caused by equipment failures must be considered. The importance of the specific system to the building’s production must be considered. Systems that are critical to production, such as air filtration or air-conditioned ventilation systems pose a significant negative impact if they were to fail. The common areas to focus maintenance efforts on are pig comfort (ventilation system) and basic needs (feed and water). By focusing maintenance efforts on these categories, producers will be able to reduce the frequency of equipment failures that could lead to animal welfare concerns.

References and Citations

Christensen, T. (2019). Livestock Enterprise Budgets for Iowa (p. 22). Iowa State University.

Hoff, S. J. (2017). Development of New Barn Commissioning and Building Component Integrity Protocols for Swine Housing Systems (#15-175). National Pork Board.

Hollis, W. L. (2006, September 7). Will nutrition and management stop hemorrhagic bowel syndrome? A veterinarian’s perspective. Midwest Swine Nutrition Conference.