When it comes to building new livestock facilities, producers have a number of options to consider.
Iowa State University Extension ag engineer Brett Ramirez says a key consideration right now is how producers can utilize technology in their buildings to control different settings.
“I’d say controller technology is one of the main features that’s being added,” he says.
Ramirez says overall barn design for wean-to-finish pig facilities has not changed much in recent years, although there are a few features producers are favoring.
“You’re definitely seeing more barns with no pit fans than you used to see,” he says.
This is mainly due to lower effectiveness of pit fans, in particular when they are not maintained, Ramirez says.
“Moving the fan up to the wall, there’s more access for maintenance,” he says. “They’re more effective. They perform better.”
Fans with variable speeds are also more popular now, Ramirez says. He is also seeing more tube heaters in barns. Also, he has seen a push for big fans in dairy buildings as ventilation remains a top concern.
Brian Dougherty, an Extension field agricultural engineer at Iowa State, says dairy barns built in recent years have emphasized ventilation.
“The main thing in new buildings is using more tunnel ventilation or cross ventilation,” he says.
Dougherty says ventilation is important for animal comfort and performance.
“Ventilation can help reduce heat stress,” he says. “When we see heat stress it has an impact on milk production.”
Also, Dougherty says the dairy industry has seen a slow adaptation of robotics in buildings, which can either be installed in new facilities or retrofitted into existing structures. He says with higher labor costs and challenges finding labor, more producers have reached out to him to get information about robotics.
Angela Green-Miller, ag engineer with the University of Illinois, says certain features will always be important for ag buildings.
“The core essentials aren’t going anywhere,” she says. “Solid ventilation systems are critical. All the other automated systems have to work — water and feeding systems.”
She says a lot of progress is coming in how producers achieve that — how they can use data and digital tools to maximize efficiency, which helps make management decisions.
“It’s how we operate those systems, and how do we make those decisions,” Green-Miller says.
Research is currently working on ways to use everyday technology and advances in engineering to improve efficiency. Efficiency can be measured in dollars, energy or other resources used, she says.
Green-Miller says data and technology can identify changes in animal performance and activity, with the goal of identifying emergence of disease or catching it earlier. It can also be used from a nutritional perspective to make health and nutrition management decisions for animals. Producers can have a key decision-making tool, but the key is quality of data on the building and animal performance.
“Data is the most important thing,” Green-Miller says.
She says labor is the top challenge for many producers right now, and the use of data can improve management and help make labor more effective.
“It’s not to replace that labor, but to enhance their ability to do their job,” Green-Miller says.
Overall, Ramirez says new features and using technology for control settings has a number of goals in mind, such as animal performance, and also making it easier to operate the buildings.
“It’s a little bit of everything,” Ramirez says. “I think the big one is ease of operation.”
He says using data to improve controls for the building is an important way producers are doing this. He says the new technology and data collection go hand in hand, using the information collected to make adjustments.
“Integrating technology (is important), and I think the other big thing will be data,” Ramirez says.
Dougherty says dairy producers in his northeast Iowa area have not been looking to build as much given the building costs.
“I haven’t heard of too many people building new buildings,” he says. “They have sticker shock right now.”