A nationwide shortage of propane brought record-high energy prices for pork producers in many regions of the U.S. this winter. A rise in propane exports has been blamed for a decrease in domestic supplies. Drying a large late-2013 corn crop in the upper Midwest also contributed to the propane supply problem. Long periods of unusually low temperatures in many parts of the country led some propane distributors to ration supplies. The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) reported that even if pork producers could get propane, they were often paying a premium, as prices jumped from less than $2/gal. in mid-January to nearly $5/gal. by Feb. 1.

Results of a recent multistate research study offer producers a strategy for reducing heating fuel use by as much as 30% and electrical use by 20% in swine nursery rooms, with no differences in pig growth performance or health by implementing reduced nocturnal temperature (RNT) management practices.

The effects of RNT on pig performance and fossil fuel consumption in swine nurseries was first studied in the 1980s and early 1990s by researchers at the University of Nebraska. Widespread adoption of the practice was limited by the lack of automated temperature controllers in swine nurseries. Recently, a research group representing the West Central Research and Outreach Center at the University of Minnesota, Morris; Haskell Agricultural Lab at the University of Nebraska, Concord; and the animal science departments at Ohio State University, South Dakota State University; and the University of Missouri re-evaluated the RNT management practices with modern swine genetics and production facilities.

Two research studies were conducted, using swine nursery facilities in Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Nebraska and South Dakota. Most research trials were run in the winter, but a few were conducted in spring. One of two temperature treatments was imposed in two identical nursery rooms at each station. In the control rooms, temperature controllers were set at 86° F for the first week and reduced 3.5° F per week throughout the remainder of the trial. Day- and nighttime temperature settings were the same in the control rooms.

 

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In the RNT rooms during Experiment 1, temperature controllers were set at 86° F for the first week after pigs arrived. Beginning on the night of Day 7, ventilation controllers were set to reduce nighttime temperatures by 10° F from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. RNT rooms were allowed to cool down gradually to the nighttime target temperature. Daytime temperature in the RNT room was set to equal the control room, and also was reduced by 3.5° F per week throughout the study.

Each room was independently monitored for consumption of heating fuel (propane or natural gas) and electricity. Rooms were assigned randomly to experimental treatments, and pigs were assigned randomly to rooms. Weight gain and feed consumption of pigs were recorded on a room basis, as was use of fossil fuel. The outcome of Experiment 1 showed that room temperature had no effect on final pig weight, average daily gain (ADG), average daily feed intake (ADFI) of pigs, feed efficiency or pig mortality between rooms. Researchers documented an 18% reduction in heating fuel use and a 9% reduction in electrical use in the RNT rooms compared to the control rooms.

In Experiment 2, a more aggressive RNT protocol was implemented. RNT temperature changes were started after five days, and the target temperature setting was reduced from the daytime temperature by 15° F. Once again, the outcome of the experiment showed that room temperature had no effect on pig weight, ADG, ADFI, feed efficiency or pig mortality. Results from Experiment 2 did show a 30% reduction in heating fuel use and a 20% reduction in electrical use. The energy savings and pig response to RNT were amazingly consistent across all research stations, according to the research team.

For more information contact Lee Johnston, West Central Research and Outreach Center, University of Minnesota, Morris at johnstlj@morris.umn.edu, or call 320-589-1711.    

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