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Hooped Shelters For Hogs

by 5m Editor
21 June 2005, at 12:00am

By Lance Gegner, NCAT Agriculture Specialist - This publication discusses some of the advantages and disadvantages of using hooped structures for finishing hogs or housing gestating sows.

It provides information on hoop barn design, deep bedding, waste management, and minimal-stress handling, as well as some cost analyses. In addition, it discusses the use of hoop barns for organic hog production and for Niman Ranch hog producers. Sources of additional information are also provided.

Introduction

Hoop shelters are an alternative production system for hogs that involves using low-cost greenhouse-like structures and a deep-bedding system different from confinement structures. Hooped shelters are designed to take advantage of the natural behavior of hogs to segregate their sleeping, dunging, and feeding areas. Hoop shelters’ deep bedding helps control hog odors and decreases the risk of manure runoff affecting water quality. Hoop shelters can be used for other purposes when not employed in hog production.

Producing hogs is tougher and more complex today than it once was. The emergence of large confinement operations and other economic factors have contributed to a commercial marketplace in which it is difficult for family-scale operations to remain viable. In response to this competitive environment, hooped shelters have evolved as an alternative, low-cost option producers should consider in their sustainable or organic hog operations.

To be sustainable and/or organic, family farmers may need to return to a more diversified system of farming, using more crop rotations and integrated livestock. Crop rotations refer to the sequence of crops grown on a field. Different crop rotations can affect long- and short-term soil fertility and pest management. Crop rotations may use forage legumes to provide nitrogen needed for other crops. On a diverse, integrated farm, livestock recycle nutrients in manure that is used to grow the livestock feed, forages, legumes, and food crops typical of healthy, diversified cropping systems, and hogs will readily eat weather-damaged crops, crop residues, alternative grains, and forages.

Using crop rotations and animal manures makes diversified farms more ecologically sound and economically stable over the long term. By integrating crop and livestock enterprises, the family farmer may be giving up some of the productivity and profitability achieved with specialization and economies of scale. However, diversified farms can also provide more stable returns by reducing the risks of specialization. As the old saying goes: “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” Diversification also allows for greater reliance on on-farm resources rather than purchased inputs.

In 2004, there were more than 3000 hooped shelters in Iowa, most used for hog production. Hooped shelters are also used for housing beef and dairy cattle, horses, and sheep, and for storing hay, grain, and machinery.(Miller, 2005) It is important to get any required building permits before putting up a hoop barn.(Anon., 2003) Some advantages and disadvantages of raising hogs in hooped shelters compared to confinement facilities can be seen in Table 1.

According to the publications Hoop Barns for Grow-Finish Swine (AED-41) and Hoop Barns for Gestating Sows (AED-44), by MidWest Plan Service (see Sources of Additional Information: Publications below), hoop barns are appropriate for

  • a farrow-to-finish producer who weans about 150 to 200 pigs at a time and uses outside lots;
  • a small, farrow-to-finish producer who wants to improve housing for his breeding stock or finishing hogs by switching from outside lots or Cargill-type floor units to a more manageable environment that allows better runoff control, better feeding efficiency, and better pig observation;
  • a producer who is seeking a facility that has alternative uses if the swine enterprise is discontinued; and
  • a producer whose goals require a lower capital investment and who has crop-residue-harvesting and solid-manure-handling equipment.

Hooped Shelter Design for Finishing Hogs

Developed in Canada as alternative housing for hog finishing, hooped shelters are arched metal frames, secured to ground posts and side walls or concrete walls about 4 to 6 feet above ground level, and covered with a polyethylene tarp that is stretched and secured. Some producers recommend using 6-foot side walls to allow better ventilation during the summer and greater ceiling space for cleaning out the manure.(Anon., 2003) It is easy to accidentally tear a hole in the tarp, but the tear can usually be patched with a special polytape available from the shelter manufacturer.

Hooped shelters come in various sizes, but a typical size is 30 feet wide by 60 to 80 feet long. At the optimum stocking density of 11 to 12 square feet per hog, the capacity of a 30 by 80-foot shelter is about 200 hogs.(Brumm et al., 2004) Occasionally, this limited space leads to fighting among the hogs. Some organic and sustainable farmers reduce the stock density to allow 14 to 16 square feet per hog, so that the capacity would be about 160 hogs.

The shelter’s end walls have moveable closings — made with plywood doors, tarps, or other materials — that are left open most of the year for ventilation. Some producers recommend that doors be made of wood or metal on a slide, because canvas doors don’t work well in strong winds.(Anon., 2003) The end walls are adjusted in winter to admit fresh air and reduce humidity levels. Erecting end wall closings can be difficult because the end pipes of the shelters cannot be used for support.(Honeyman, 1998) Many producers have added 16-foot steel hog gates on both ends of the shelter to allow easier entry for regular additions to bedding and for cleaning out manure.

In several northern areas and Canada, shelters are situated on an east-west axis to protect the open ends from prevailing cold winds; however, most shelters are laid out north-south, or a bit northeast by southwest, to catch the prevailing summer breezes. If more than one hoop barn is planned, it is important to maintain a distance between the hoop barns to allow the prevailing winds to circulate through all the barns.(Anon., 2003) A concrete pad (usually on the eastern or southern end) runs the full width of the shelter and is usually extended 16 to 20 feet into the building.

Further Information

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June 2005