Energy is a resource that must be used efficiently and effectively. It makes no sense to waste it.

Energy prices have risen quite significantly in the last number of months and there is concern that it will become an even more significant cost in the future. Pig farms can spend a considerable amount of money on energy.

The 2021 National Pig Herd Performance Report showed that energy costs (heat, power and light) amounted to €6.43 per pig produced (or €180 per sow per year based upon 28.1 pigs produced per sow per year). This profit monitor data covers approximately 43% of the national pig herd.

This means that the average 600-sow integrated pig unit spent approximately €108,000 on energy in 2021.

The price has further skyrocketed as current quotes stand at 45c+/kWh used versus approximately 25c/KWh in 2021.

In 2012, a Teagasc survey on 23 pig farms showed a huge variation in the energy usage ranging from 18 up to 45kWh per pig produced with an average figure of 28kWh per pig produced. The high variation from one farm to another suggests that a greater emphasis needs to be put on energy efficiency.

The biggest energy requirements on pig units are:

  • Heating pig houses.
  • Ventilation systems and fans.
  • Lighting.
  • Feed delivery and mixing.
  • Power-washing.
  • Manure pumps to agitate slurry.
  • Short-term steps to reduce energy costs

    Monitor energy usage on your farm. Do regular meter readings; do not just rely on utility bills. Carry out an energy audit.

    Energy audits will not only tell you where the energy is being used but it can also highlight areas where potential savings can be made.

    The SEAI’s Support Scheme for Energy Audits (SSEA) offers financial support for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to get audited. The application and approval process is quick and easy, and the SEAI support usually covers the entire cost.

    Benchmark your performance with industry standards. Research shows that there is a huge variation in energy usage on pig farms with a range of 18 to 45kWh per pig produced. Based on today’s energy cost, that can equate to a substantial difference of approximately €170,000 as seen in Table 1. The difference highlights that greater emphasis needs to be placed on energy efficiency on pig farms.

    “We can minimise the amount of energy we must buy by being more energy efficient; a kWh that does not need to be used is one that does not need to be produced either. This is positive from a carbon footprint point of view.

    Steps to reduce energy costs in the medium term

    Maintenance, repairs and cleaning are all essential to reducing the energy that is wasted. Check the accuracy of controls on your farm and that sensors are correctly positioned (dust, cobwebs and fly dung will contribute to incorrect sensor reading).

    Use the information obtained from control systems to see how the system is performing. It is critical to check if the ventilation system is working in tandem with the heating system throughout the whole unit.

  • Insulation: the provision of heat in buildings is wasteful if there is a poor level of insulation in the building. The walls and ceilings should be insulated to achieve suitable U values. Check the insulation to see if it has been damaged by pests.
  • Lighting: we all know the importance of lighting throughout the different stages of production. LEDs are the latest technology in lighting. The light fittings are more expensive to install but last much longer and are more efficient from an energy use perspective, cutting operating costs. They do not heat and use less energy as a result. They are worth considering in new buildings as a result.
  • Farrowing house tips: accurate heat control is a requirement in the farrowing house for the survival of newly born piglets. The ideal is to have a farrowing room temperature of 24°C once the first piglet is born. This should be reduced to 200C to 210C when the youngest piglet in the room is over 48 hours old.
  • Pig producers may use shredded paper to supplement the heat source at farrowing rather than an infra-red bulb. If the average gestation period is 115 days, it is not necessary to heat up the creep area until day 113 of gestation to avoid wasting energy.

    Poor temperature control can lead to unnecessary overheating of pads and further wasted heat production and ventilation energy. This applies particularly in the first two weeks after farrowing.

  • Weaner and finisher accommodation: ventilation and feeding systems are the main users of energy in the weaner and finisher section of a pig farm. The aim is to have newly weaned pigs kept at 28°C to 29°C initially, with a reduction of approximately 2°C in room temperature each week thereafter.
  • However, with heavy weaning weights, there may be some scope to reduce these temperatures.

    Implement dual temperature zones in houses by installing covered creep areas in weaner houses. This means that only the small area under the covered creep needs to reach 200Cto 30°C.

    The temperature in the rest of the room can be reduced to 24°C.

    Ensure controls are properly calibrated and set to the correct temperature and re-insulate buildings if necessary, adding fresh seals to stop draughts.

    With wet feeding and slurry pumping systems, choose pumps that give the best flow to energy characteristics.

    Cutting costs in the longer term

    Longer-term steps to reduce energy costs include installing air-source heat pumps to power heat pads in farrowing houses.

    The capital costs of these systems can be high, but they are effective in reducing fuel costs.

    Solar PV is another option to cut on-farm energy bills. Solar PV will generally generate 20% to 50% of the farm’s annual requirement. It is very difficult to put in a system on pig farms that would generate 100% of the farm’s requirements and, once installed, maintenance costs are minimal.

    There are both SEAI and Targeted Agriculture Modernisation Scheme (TAMS) initiatives which incentivise the installation of solar PV. Farmers are advised to compare these funding options if considering installing panels on their units.