With fuel prices in danger of rising as rapidly as animal feed costs, pig producers are advised to evaluate energy usage and reduce inputs wherever possible. Before this can be done, pig producers must monitor their systems carefully to discover how much energy they are using, where they are using it and in what form – electricity, oil, gas, lighting, heat or cooling.
Most pig farmers are already monitoring their systems to get the best results from their feed, as well as ensuring their ventilation and heating systems are working properly.
In addition to taking a critical analysis of their businesses to record energy usage, pig professionals also need to involve their staff and encourage them to think how and where energy can be saved. This can be as simple as closing doors behind them and switching lights off when they leave the staff room to using energy efficient bulbs and recycling heat.
“Real-time monitoring is essential for animal-focused production management and monitoring and training must go hand-in-hand,” said Hugh Crabtree, of the farm energy and control services business, Farmex. Crabtree has advised pig producers in Australia, the United States and Europe.
He pointed out that any parameters, including water intake and air quality, as well as lighting and energy consumption should be measured and analyzed to help reduce production costs and improve performance.
Once pig farmers have established where and how they use energy, they can compare benchmark figures against actual energy use records on individual units to establish where savings can be made,” said British Pig Executive, Environment Programme Manager, Nigel Penlington.
This could include improvements in insulation and buildings, as well as computer-controlled technology to improve energy efficiency. Installing modern energy-efficient ventilation systems, for example, can make a great impact on energy bills. New equipment is constantly being developed to help producers reduce their usage.
“However, pig producers should also think laterally and consider how they can recycle and reuse heat in novel ways to help save on fuel bills,” said Penlington.
“For example, some pig farmers in Denmark are burying ground source heating coils in their slurry pits and recycling the heat from them to keep their piglets warm and to heat buildings.”
“There also are several opportunities for pig farmers to recover heat from exhaust air by deploying heat exchangers; this heat can then be reused to warm incoming air, or it can be captured and redistributed elsewhere within the unit.
He said that heat pump technology and modern manufacturing techniques have advanced to the stage where both ground source and air-to-air heat pumps could offer a credible alternative to the conventional oil or gas-fired heaters used in many piggeries.
Renewable energy caveats
Observing that the development of new technology is moving forward rapidly, Penlington pointed out that new opportunities regarding the use of solar panels, anaerobic digestion plants and other renewable energy units should also be considered, depending on a producer’s location and particular circumstances.
However, he warns pig producers considering investing in renewable energy systems to make sure their choice of technology can be safely integrated into their existing infrastructure.
“For example, a lot of roofs on farm buildings were not designed to carry any extra weight and might need to be strengthened, if solar panels are to be put on them those costs will have to be taken into consideration,” said Penlington. “There also might be a need for new wiring, as well as new equipment to cope with the renewable energy.”
While there are plenty of opportunities and new technologies to help pig farmers reduce, reuse and recycle energy, as well as to generate their own, Penlington advised pig producers to consider all the options first.
“They should also talk to other people and see what they have done – and if they are keen to use renewable energy, they should take advice on what sort of technology would be best for them.
“They also must check that the supplier and installer knows something about agriculture, particularly the pig business, before going ahead with any project, so they will know how and where best to site the equipment.”