Propane, PED and pig problems plaguing producers

At a time when most hog producers should be excited about the future after a long stretch of high feed costs, they are facing potentially devastating new challenges at every turn. The PED virus is claiming the lives of young pigs and the propane crunch around the country is a constant source of expense and stress with plenty of cold winter weather yet to come.

Anthony Stateler, a Hancock County hog producer, is battling both problems simultaneously.

“We were able to get 400 gallons delivered to us. Right now we have been running 5 to 10 degrees cooler than what we should have been,” he said. “With the PED outbreak we have, you want the barn warmer but you don’t have the fuel to keep it the temperature you want to. We used heat lamps that have helped.

“If I take another two or three loads of hogs, though, we will lose the body heat to keep the barn warm enough. Hopefully we can find some more propane from another supplier. I can’t keep enough body heat in the barn. If we get another round of cold weather, there will have to be some things decided. Somebody made some major mistakes somewhere in planning for this propane supply. This is a tough pill to swallow right now.”

With more winter remaining, there are still ways to get the most out of the tight fuel supply in the hog barn.  Here are some winter heating tips from specialists at Iowa State University.
Proper ventilation rate

The goal during colder months is to control moisture and ammonia as much as possible. Underventilating a building will result in poor air quality and may cause health and growth problems with pigs. Conversely, overventilating by just 20% can increase propane usage by 50%. In some cases, especially in wean-to-finish buildings, minimum ventilation fans may be too large, too many fans are used or the percent speed setting may be too high. If overventilation is occurring and two fans are being used for minimum ventilation, try turning off one fan and running the remaining one at a higher speed. Monitor air quality to be sure to provide enough air. The percentage shown in the controller is likely not the percentage of fan capacity so it may take time to find the appropriate setting.

Adjust the temperature

The proper temperature is important for energy efficiency. Observe the pigs to determine their comfort level. If pigs are too cold, they will huddle and pile up when resting. If they are too warm, they will avoid each other. Adjust the temperature so pigs sleep side by side but not in a pile. Just a few degrees difference can save a substantial amount of propane.


Adjust the heater

The controller should be adjusted so that minimum ventilation fan speed never increases while the heater is cycling. If the heater runs and then shuts down and a fan increases its speed, it means that the heater is shutting off too close to the setpoint. If this is happening, simply adjust the heater to shut off at a slightly lower temperature. In the case of one producer, it was documented that setting the heater to shut off one-half degree lower saved 3.75 gallons of LP per furnace per day.


Adjust the ventilation when using brooders

Some producers use brooders for small pigs. This allows them to keep the room cool, but the pigs feel warmer due to localized heating. If the setpoint is low (70 degrees, for instance) extra fans may switch on to maintain this cool temperature in the room. A better approach is to set the room setpoint just above the brooder temperature (85 degrees, for example) but to have your heater turn off at a lower temperature, such as 70 degrees. By preventing fans from cycling too early, this technique retains more heat in the building rather than discarding it through the ventilation system.


Seal leaks

Air leaks such as holes in ventilation curtains, leaky fan louvers or cracks around doors may create cold spots which cause heaters to run longer than necessary. Eliminate these and other leaks to maintain air quality and to reduce propane consumption.

It is also important to remember that circulating fresh air is key to avoiding respiratory problems later in the winter. Barns without proper circulation can put the pigs’ health at risk too.

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