New building creates the right atmosphere

Sam Walton reports from the South-west of England where a new French-designed finisher house has recently been commissioned

Anyone who has suffered a piggery fire has my deepest sympathy. It’s 19 years since I had one, and it’s still fresh in my memory. Unfortunately, that’s what happened to Dorset-based Jeremy Barber of Seaborough Pigs at the end of March last year, when he lost a finisher building and 995 pigs. Many were from his original rare bloodlines, although fortunately he had a reserve of some of the genetics through his partnership with Hermitage.

In the aftermath of the disaster, Jeremy has now erected the latest version of the I-Tek finisher building from France. There aren’t many pig buildings you can go into and not smell “piggy” when you come out, but this is certainly one. Ventilation has to be one of the most complex areas in pig management and the I-Tek system certainly ticks all the right boxes in my opinion. What’s good for us humans is also good for the pigs and the atmosphere in the building was exemplary.

Since I last visited I-Tek in France in 2010, the company has further improved the way in which it ventilates the buildings. There’s now only one three-phase extraction fan with inverter for each room instead of two previously. This means the running costs are greatly reduced, and with energy prices constantly increasing, that’s a significant benefit.

The building itself has four rooms, each with a central passage with five pens either side with a capacity of 25 finishers each (1,000 pigs in total), plus one smaller weaner room with pens on just one side. The whole building is air tight; the eaves are sealed, as are the windows.

The only air able to enter the building is from I-Tek’s unique inlets from an underground air channel. This gives a cellar effect in both summer and winter and reduces the difference in air temperature between night and day, while at the same time, reducing any wind effect.

Air is drawn up into what, at first glance, look like feed hoppers, but are in fact I-Tek’s Exatop inlet posts. There are two of these for each pen in the central passage, and they all have a regulating flap inside that regulates the amount of air entering the room taking into account the room temperature and the volume of air leaving through the extraction fan.

The system is set-up to create an under-pressure in the room, guaranteeing the perfect distribution of the incoming air throughout the whole building. The incoming air rises to the ceiling, mixing warm and cold air, and then loops its way across the ceiling to the far side of each pen in a sort of big-wheel motion.

I saw the system demonstrated with a smoke test during my visit; it not only avoids draughts on the pigs, but brings warmer air down to them, helping to keep the environment warm in winter.

The below-ground inlet channels for each room are blocked off about 3m from the end, at which point they become outlet channels connected to an external extraction fan. As all the air is extracted from under the slats, this means any ammonia and heavy gases are drawn out of the building before they get the chance to reach the pigs.

For safety, if the power supply fails the sealed windows drop open, but when the power is restored, they also close again and the system carries on as normal.

Jeremy’s new building began as a conventional steel frame to which I-Tek components were added. These included insulated aluminium exterior coated panels; the internal wall panels; pen divisions; gates; feeders; slats; and the Exatop air inlet posts.

Beaminster-based structural engineer and steel stockholder Philip Hardwill supplied and erected the steel frame, which was an interesting exercise for him and his team as

it was the first I-Tek building they’d worked on. It has to be said the building is a credit to him and his staff, and nothing’s been left to chance.

Farmex agent Richard Pillinger fitted the latest Dicam controls and adapted them to fully operate and record the running of the new finisher unit. As it was the first time he’d been involved with I-Tek’s ventilation system, he was keen to demonstrate what it could do. Even Farmex’s Hugh Crabtree had been impressed, and he’s not easily swayed!

Jeremy reports that the building has worked correctly right from the word go because of the way the air flows in the rooms. The slats are always dry, and there’s a superb atmosphere. Although the piggery had not been filled completely at the time of my visit, the growth rates of the pigs already in there for a number of weeks, which included some Seaborough Large White heavily muscled sire lines, were quite exceptional.

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