Should we trust ‘automatic’ ventilation controls in changing conditions?

The weather in Southern Minnesota this week is typical for the middle of November and the calendar says October 21. For many producers in the region, their management focus remains the corn and soybeans still standing in the fields rather than the winterization of swine production facilities.

Many foreign readers of this blog have great difficulties in understanding the vast range in climatic conditions that characterize the upper Midwest in the United States. In southern Minnesota (420 north latitude) we can have daily highs of 100F (38C) in late July and August with dew point temperatures of 70F (21C) or higher and daily lows of -20F (-29C) in late January and early February.

Night time lows this week are predicted to be around 26F (-3C) and we fully expect to see daily highs in the coming weeks approaching 68F (20C) on more than one occasion before winter fully sets in.

This very wide range of climatic conditions is a primary reason producers in the region were early adopters of confinement production. However, it takes an adaptive attitude towards facility management to keep conditions in facilities within the comfort zone of the pigs. With 20-30 mph (30-50 kmph) northwest winds this past weekend any failures to close up fan shutters, curtain pockets, etc. has meant cold drafts in barns and propane furnaces coming on. Yet, if it gets to 68F next week, these same fans and curtains must be in operational mode in order to remove the accumulated pig heat from the facilities.

Growing up in this region the above contrasts in daily weather conditions seem normal and I fully expect that in the production facilities I manage we can adapt as necessary to provide for the environmental needs of our growing pigs. However I frequently see failures to adapt as I work with producers and production systems. Many producers and contract growers erect facilities with the expectation that the ‘automatic’ component of their ventilation system will compensate for these wide variations in climatic conditions. In my experience, there is no such thing as ‘automatic’ and the successful producers (either pig owners or contract growers) know when to use ‘manual’ guidance to improve conditions in the facility in response to changing conditions.

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