Pit Pumping

Every year those of us involved in pork production hear tales of pig deaths associated with manure pit agitation and manure removal from confinement facilities. These deaths range from a ‘few’ pigs in a corner of a curtain-sided wean-finish facility to hundreds of animals. In recognition of the risks to both pigs and people working in these facilities, the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Pork Board sponsored a webcast on the topic of ventilation management during pit pumping last Wednesday (http://www.extension.umn.edu/swine/porkcast/).


As the presenter of this program, I spent considerable time in the past 2 months reviewing the limited information available on the topic and developing a set of ventilation guidelines. I also talked with insurance agents and commercial applicators about many of the issues associated with this activity. In conversations with commercial haulers, it soon became evident that they do not want to have anything to do with setting the ventilation systems in facilities they are agitating and removing manure from. As they point out, there are too many variations in controllers, fans, pig ages, etc. for them to be able to get it right at every site. In addition, many sites prevent access to facilities, which means access to ventilation controllers is often limited. The end result is a fact sheet developed in cooperation with Dr Jay Harmon at Iowa State University that outlines what we believe to be a reasonable strategy for management of the ventilation system during pit agitation and pumping. The fact sheet is available from the Minnesota Pork Board.


Not included in the fact sheet are some of the legal and insurance issues associated with manure agitation and removal. Increasingly, commercial manure haulers are asking producers to sign waivers of liability. These waivers basically say that the person signing the waiver will not hold the commercial hauler liable in the event of pig deaths, etc. In many cases, having a signed waiver for each site/facility is a requirement in the commercial haulers liability policy.


As pointed out to me by an insurance agent in Iowa who specializes in insuring contract grower sites, this waiver has a severe limit that contract growers and commercial manure firms need to be aware of. This limit is that the contract grower has no ownership or financial right to anything associated with the pigs. In the event of pig deaths, it is the pig owner who suffers a financial loss, not the contract grower. Thus, a grower’s signature on a waiver of liability cannot be linked to the pig owner as the grower is not an agent for the pig owner in most cases and does not have the right to sign the waiver for the pig owner.


If pig deaths occur during agitation and pumping, will the contract grower be liable for negligence under the terms of the grower contract? Does the pig owner have a written set of ventilation guidelines for this situation? If yes, there generally isn’t negligence on the part of the contract grower if these guidelines are followed. If the pig owner doesn’t have a set of guidelines, can the grower be negligent since there were no directions or guidance?


I suggest that every pig owner, contract grower and commercial manure firm visit with their insurance agent to be sure all parties understand the trail of liability associated with manure agitation and removal. The entire issue of liability and ventilation strategies to prevent pig deaths and the associated liability represent a major financial risk when one considers that the recent strength in hog prices mean every pig delivered to slaughter is now worth $165-$170.


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