In the swine business, speed usually means turns per year, driven by faster growth or improved conception. To the progressive Forest River Hutterite Community of Fordville, ND, the term is related to the pace of new building construction and the new technology behind it.

Located in the northeast corner of North Dakota, less than 50 miles from Manitoba, the Forest River Community (FRC) watched the Canadian swine industry boom in the last five years, including expansion of Hutterite pork production. What intrigued the livestock managers of Forest River most about new facility growth up north was the ability to get buildings up fast — with quality that would last.

Paul Maendel, general manager at FRC, and swine managers Wayne and Daniel Maendel, got first-hand knowledge of the wall system technology by viewing swine facilities in Alberta and talking with dealer Ed Dornn of Excel Construction in Manitoba. That connection led them to a Woodbridge, Ontario company called Royal Building Systems (RBS).

In 1970, RBS began manufacturing rigid extruded polymer components that serve as the finished formwork for a variety of concrete walls, including bearing, non-bearing, retaining and foundation applications — initially sold for building homes, medical centers, apartment buildings, schools and more.

“In the mid-1990s we realized this technology had a good fit into the agricultural market and have since built several hundred swine facilities in Canada and the northern U.S.,” says Chris Jones, agricultural specialist for RBS. “We've built everything — from farrowing barns to wean-to-finish to farrow-to-finish facilities.”

The quick-and-simple assembly of durable, relatively maintenance-free walls is attractive to pork producers. “The vinyl resin we use can withstand any abuse — whether it's from animals, chemical cleaners, urine or manure. Our walls are airtight, eliminating rodent problems and the damage/diseases they can cause. Plus, we offer forms with injected insulation that have R-Values of R22 for cold climates to R37 for hot climates,” Jones explains.

Mechanical Ventilation

Total mechanically ventilated swine buildings are still uncommon here in the U.S., says Larry Jacobson, extension agricultural engineer, University of Minnesota. “The only mechanically ventilated barns now are sow units. In the last 10 years, the open-wall curtain barn (grow-finish) has been the norm, basically because of economics and a desire to not mechanically ventilate. But all these building types have advantages and disadvantages,” he says.

“I examined this type of wall technology in some Canadian swine facilities several years ago, and it makes a lot of sense,” he continues. “It is ideal for keeping rodents out, there's no corrosion, and they should last longer, perhaps up to 20 years — or double the current longevity of post-frame swine units.”

Two challenges with mechanically ventilated buildings are materials cost and the ability to move enough air in the summer to get rid of the heat. But new technology has helped improve summer cooling, and building longevity is helping reduce overall building costs per animal, Jacobson adds.

Paul Maendel has been very pleased with the roof ventilation so far. “At full capacity, even with the outside temperature at 108° F. recently, our computer-controlled ventilation is doing its job of getting the humidity out and keeping the inside air at 89° F. Drippers are keeping the sows cool and content,” he says. “We've also allowed more space per sow, designing in 1 sq. ft. more room per sow crate (6.5 × 7.5 ft. crate). We believe sows that are more comfortable will produce better and there's less pig loss.”

Initial Costs Higher

After many years of upkeep, repair and painting of its existing wood-framed facility, FRC knew it needed more durable and longer-lasting buildings, especially since they were shifting from a small grow-finish operation to an 800-sow unit, with plans to add a grow-finish facility later.

“Due to the large initial cost, we wanted to get the building up and running quickly and efficiently to initiate cash flow earlier,” says Daniel Maendel, who helps run the new facility. “With this wall system, we were able to complete our entire wall setup for this 127 × 284 ft. building in four days, followed by two days to fill them with concrete. If we had framed this with wood, that part of the construction process would have taken at least three weeks.”

Paul Maendel was quick to admit that the initial cost for RBS walls is probably 10 to 20% higher than wood. “But when we factored in a 50% savings in labor, plus longer term maintenance savings and many other variables, we figured we'd save 20% over the cost of wood in the long run,” he adds. The 800-sow unit, completely equipped, cost $800,000 ($1,000/sow). Members of the Hutterite community supplied most of the labor.

According to the 2001 University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension “Leasing and Valuing Swine Facilities” guide, the FRC's $1,000/sow figure is in the ballpark. The guide lists replacement costs for a farrow-to-wean complex from $800 to $1,000/sow ($27.25 to $33.50/ sq. ft.).

Interconnecting Walls

One labor/time saver compared to post-frame construction was the quick-and-simple method of connecting wall sections. Paul Maendel says sliding the forms together into 8-ft.-wide sections took six teenage girls only three days. The sections were then lifted with a small crane and slid from the top down to adjoin the standing wall section. “Another time saver was the ease of how doors and windows were quickly installed due to the integrated adjustable jambs,” Paul Maendel adds.

To build this structure, FRC used the 6-in. concrete + 2-in. insulation forms for the outer walls, 6-in. concrete forms for interior hallways and load-bearing walls and 4-in. concrete forms for all other interior walls. Five wall types are available: 2.5-in., 4-in., 6-in. and 8-in. concrete walls or 6-in. + 2 in. of insulation.

Once all walls were up and before the concrete started to fill them, the electrical channels were slid into the framework to wire the entire building. “We just had to router out the vinyl along that channel in walls where we needed a switch or outlet, pop a box in and connect the wires,” Paul Maendel says.

When the walls were finished, a standard wood rafter roof was installed. As for the rest of the components inside this shower-in, shower-out facility, “everything else is pretty much basic equipment you'd find in any 800-sow facility,” Paul Maendel says. “We used Crystal Springs equipment for all the stalls and components, and we used Envirotech Ag Systems for the ventilation and feeding systems. All animals are fed by computer so the sows don't get riled up … which reduces pig loss because the sow doesn't get up and down every time it sees a human,” he adds.

“One component we did change that's different from most swine buildings is the use of schedule 80 gray PVC pipe. It's extra thick and is UV resistant so it won't get brittle with age like the white PVC pipe,” Paul Maendel adds.

The building features nine farrowing rooms with 18 crates/room. They farrow two rooms at a time with the goal of shipping 500 pigs/group every week. They're continuously rotating four sets of 36 sows each, keeping one farrowing room open for cleaning, disinfecting and drying out. The breeding area consists of four sets of 36 sows, with the same for the gestation side.

Coal Heating

Another unique feature — and a big money saver — is a coal boiler used for heat during the long, cold North Dakota winters. “So far, it has cost us very little to heat the building. From December through April, we only used four semi-loads of coal for a total cost of $2,000, which is a fraction of the cost of facilities we know that are heated by electricity and propane,” he says.

Paul Maendel says now that all sows are in, they wouldn't have done anything differently. “We've even let the walls go three weeks without cleaning the manure as a test. A simple once-over with a pressure washer had them looking nice and clean. This structure and all the components are working even better than we thought it would. This barn is definitely worth the money.”

For further information on this wall system, visit Royal Building Systems' Web site at www.rbsdirect.com or call toll-free (877) 747-WALL (9255). For information on the building and swine operation, contact Paul Maendel, Forest River Community, (701) 865-4112 or frc@polarcomm.com.