Swine Producers See Financial Gains in Learning about Ventilation Systems

May 2013

Iowa swine producers have a strong, solid understanding of animal husbandry, but changes in ventilation system technologies and complexity often make efficient and economical management of the systems a challenge. Ventilation systems, while only a small part of the overall production system, can have a big impact on animal performance, animal health and welfare, and energy use.

Extension’s Response

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach teaches swine producers about ventilation systems in relation to their animals. Extension swine specialists and agricultural engineers in Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota and South Dakota have teamed-up to create an educational workshop using a “field day on wheels” – a swine ventilation training unit.

The workshops using the unit are delivered by local extension agricultural engineers and livestock specialists, along with campus educators. In a classroom setting the extension team builds on producers’ animal husbandry knowledge by introducing principles of physics and technology related to ventilation systems. Then they ask the participants to apply what they’ve heard to ventilation scenarios using the equipment filled trailer.

“Farmers like field days, but bio-security issues make it impractical to hold field days at live production facilities. We created the swine production ventilation training unit to serve as an educational field day site,” said Dave Stender, swine specialist with ISU Extension and Outreach. “We teach about the pigs’ environment, ventilation system design and management, and take a look at common ventilation trouble areas before going to the training unit and working through scenarios.”

Ventilation systems confusing
Producers completing pre-workshop surveys show a high level of misunderstanding regarding ventilation systems and related animal husbandry practices among pork producers. The workshop is a complete experience in understanding the principles of the ventilation system, teaching how to mix air more effectively for healthier pigs while using less energy for fans and heating.

Many of the principles are complicated – hard to understand by just listening, more easily understood when seen in action. The educators say when producers understand the science behind the system they have more success diagnosing problems when they arise. After applying classroom information to the ventilation unit component of the workshop, producers report having more confidence in their ability to make the proper changes to ventilation systems.

ISU Extension and Outreach has used the portable unit as part of 32 workshops since 2011, reaching nearly 600 producers and agri-business representatives and impacting the production of 39.4 million finishers and 370,000 sows.

Results

Workshop participants report healthier air environments for workers and animals, production benefits and energy cost savings. One producer lowered his energy bill for the year by $10,000 following the workshop, even when the price of energy increased slightly!

Other producers report knowing how to measure air speed, velocity, and humidity; how to make sure the inlets are set correctly, and how much fresh air to bring in. They are confidently making changes to fan belt tension, wall opening size for pit fans, and fan motor curves, and are checking on the animals and systems more often – resulting in lower cost of production and healthier animals.

Learn more about ventilation system training by contacting:
Dave Stender, (712) 225-6196, dstender@iastate.edu; and the ISU Extension and Outreach swine specialists
Jay Harmon, (515) 294-0554, jharmon@iastate.edu; and the ISU Extension and Outreach agricultural engineers