Our Facilities are Aging

 

With record profits projected for this year, even in the face of a shortage of pigs due to the PEDv outbreak, many producers have begun thinking about appropriate reinvestment strategies. Lately I’ve begun thinking about the need for repair/replacement in our nursery and grow-finish facilities.

The first ‘Farmland’ fully slatted 960 hd grow-finish barns were constructed in Iowa beginning in 1991. These facilities are now 23 years old and have housed pigs in times of relatively good profits and in times of massive losses. The general conversion of Midwest grow-finish facilities from Cargill floors and partial slats can be traced from that time with many of our production facilities approaching 20 years of use.

Generally repairs have not been a scheduled item due to unsure cash flows from profits. Rather, repairs often get done on an as-needed basis – fix the gating because the pigs broke it, fix the fan because it stopped running, patch the slats because of a broken slat, etc.

We are at the point in many facilities where some serious questions need to be asked about repairs versus replacement. I don’t have good answers for when to replace versus repair, but this may be the year for a hard look at your repair/replace needs in facilities.

I don’t have simple answers for the repair versus replace question but I know that many production facilities would benefit from a careful evaluation of the structural integrity of the slats and support beams. With the increase is sale weights and no change in the stocking densities, we now have 15-20% more weight per unit of flooring surface than when many of the barns were built. If erosion of the slat surface was allowed to occur, has it become severe enough to compromise the structural integrity of the slat? Are we at risk of failure (i.e. pigs in the pit)?

What about rafters and roofing materials? In many cases there have been 20 years of uneven snow loads on roof support members. Can they take another severe storm or is there an increased risk of collapse?

The original curtain sided barns often were limited in ventilation capacity with the belief that the sooner one could go to ‘natural’ ventilation, the better. The down side of this is that we often end up rusting out soffits and roof steel at the southwest corner of each animal space due to warm, moist and contaminated air condensing on the soffits and roofing steel. If you are going to fix soffits and roof steel, is now the time to also upgrade the ventilation system for total CFM capacity so the room stays in mechanical ventilation until it is warmer outside and the risk of condensation damage is reduced?

Have you patched the wiring in response to needs over the years? If you’ve done any unsafe wiring practices is this the year you spend some profits to return the electrical system to safer system? What about updates to controllers and/or switches?

I still get on too many sites where the feed line flex auger has duct tape repairs. Is this the year to get this source of feed wastage repaired/replaced? With pigs now 20-40 lb heavier than when the facility was built, can you feeders easily accommodate the larger head and shoulder size or are they a limit to feed intake and a source of feed waste? If you replace feeders, will they accommodate pigs 10-20 years from now which in all likely hood will be 20-40 lb heavier than this years weights?

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