Power failures and snow storms

Two weeks ago I spent 2 days in northeast Nebraska making site visits and doing producer meetings. My visit began the day after the ‘big storm’ and snow drifts were up to the eaves of the buildings on the 2 sites I stopped at. As I write this week’s blog, another storm is forming in the southwest, with the governor of South Dakota already declaring an emergency situation in advance of the storm.


While too late for these storms, it is a good time to think about your emergency preparedness plan for your production site(s). I know many of you have an emergency plan as part of your environmental permit. This plan often involves details on how you will deal with manure spills, lagoon or dike failures, etc.


What about your plan for electricity failures? In the event a heavy snow or ice takes down electric lines servicing your facility, are you prepared? While we all like to think yes, the reality is that I continually run across sites where an electric system failure will result in a major hardship.


Let’s start with the alarm system at the site. Is there a telephone signal to the alarm? Sounds like an obvious question, but I have been on sites where a grower or owner says they didn’t know there was no phone signal until something happened, or they went to use the fax machine and had no signal. Do you test the alarm on a routine basis to be sure it dials out, and do those on the calling tree know what to do when the call comes?


While we all talk about suffocation as a cause of death in the event of power failure, the real cause is most often heat. Today’s market weight pigs are producing over 850 btu/hr of heat in a combination of sensible heat (air temperature) and latent heat (heat involved in evaporating moisture). In the event of a power failure at a site, you have about 30 minutes to begin the process of heat removal for market weight pigs unless your barn has curtain sides that leak a lot in windy conditions. For smaller pigs, you have about 1 hour before conditions begin to approach those that cause death.


For those with on-site standby generators, have you verified that the transfer switch works? What about fuel quality? This past week I learned of a site that lost pigs 2 days after the power went out when the fuel filter gradually plugged on the generator due to old fuel in the tank.


For those that use a tractor driven generator at a site and the site is remote from where the tractor is housed, how long to drive to the site and connect the generator? If you are alone, how will you return from the site if you have to leave the tractor hooked to the generator?


For those with curtain sided barns, in the event of a power outage, the curtain should drop. The good news, pigs won’t die from heat. The bad news, they will drop even in a blizzard. Some producers uncouple the automatic drops on the north/west curtains in very cold weather. If this is done, be sure the curtain on the remaining sidewall can drop at least 2 feet. On a 50 ft wide facility, opening one curtain only 1 foot may not remove enough heat from the facility to prevent pig death loss if you can’t get to the site in less than 1 hour.

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