Architects with designs on new farm structures to blend in with the environment and reduce the emission of harmful greenhouse gases have thrown the spotlight on energy efficiency in pig production.
Although fuel use is not the highest single cost in pig production, a lot of energy is wasted on pig farms that producers cannot afford. Doing something to reduce usage, or reuse the heat generated by pig production could lead to dramatic savings for pig producers on a global scale.

Saving energy does not necessarily need huge investment – simple changes in management, like switching equipment off when not needed and ensuring all the ventilation equipment works properly, can have a significant effect on the budget. It would also be the first step towards reducing carbon emissions and reliance on fossil fuels.

“Smart Meter”

Just installing a low-cost so-called “Smart Meter” which displays exactly how power is being consumed at any one time on the premises can be an effective way of cutting down on energy bills, says Hugh Crabtree, of the UK-based monitoring equipment company, Farmex.

“Once people are made aware of every watt that is being used, they will automatically start switching things off to get the numbers down,” he said. “This is as true on farms as it is in domestic conditions.”

As far as changes in management practice are concerned, Crabtree argues that pig farmers could reduce energy usage almost immediately by understanding more about heating and minimum ventilation rates and perhaps investing in new robust controls.

Farmers who are determined to cut back on their energy bills should also look at the practicalities of capturing waste animal heat and re-using it to help them to heat water in other parts of the farm, or greenhouse crops such as tomatoes.

An inexpensive heat exchange system would allow farmers to recycle heat from farrowing rooms to keep pigs warm in other parts of the building, or the farm office, for example, and would cut fuel costs.

Third biggest cost

And all this is even before farmers look at more drastic steps such as swapping all their conventional 60-W light bulbs in the pig houses the low-energy 11-W bulbs. That was done in the UK last year by Joe Dewhirst, managing director of Yorkwold Pigpro Ltd. near Driffield in East Yorkshire, who had big motivation to cut his energy bills, when he discovered they were his third biggest cost after labor and feed.

“We found that low-energy (11W) bulkhead bulbs provided enough light for sows in the farrowing units and provided a calmer atmosphere for them. This meant that we could turn off even more of our fluorescent lighting, while still maintaining welfare and performance,” says Dewhirst, whose company has 6,000 sows spread over 25 breeding and finishing sites.

He also installed 578 heat pads into all the company’s farrowing houses at a cost of £50,000 (US$83,510). Having these 125-W pads meant that the 250-W heat lamps were only used for the first 24 hours post farrowing.

Doing this, plus focusing staff attention on the need to save energy and switch off lights wherever possible, as well as making sure all the fans and heaters were working efficiently led to savings of up to £70,000 (US$116,914) a year on his energy bills.

It all adds up

In fact, his figures are so impressive that they are being used by the British Pig Executive to set benchmarks on energy use to help other UK pig farmers who want to reduce their power bills, without having to invest too much money, or change their systems too drastically.

“Increasing the awareness of staff about fans and heaters, as well as lighting doesn’t cost much, but it has a great effect on the size of the energy bills,” Dewhirst points out.

Accurate recording is also important to keep a check on energy consumption and he suggested that producers could even use sub-meters on some buildings to check on how much energy they used, he explains.

Dewhirst adds that he calculated all the changes rigorously before investing any time or money in them to ensure that they would pay back quickly, usually within a year or two. Consideration was also given to maintaining physical performance, as there would be no point saving energy at a cost to performance.