Better Barns: Time for a spring tune-up

Ben Kaiser
May 03, 2018
By Ben Kaiser
Better Barns: Time for a spring tune-up
Photo: Fotolia
As I’m writing this it’s a balmy -28°C in Alberta and we’ve just had a major dump of snow. It’s a little difficult to start thinking about spring and summer in this kind of weather. By the time this issue comes out, the sun will be warmer, the fields will be worked over, and the birds will be singing.

Over the past few months, poultry barns have been running on minimum ventilation. Ventilation systems have all been running at the lowest levels possible due to the cold weather. Now is the time to start preparing for the return of the hot July sun.

Check controls
First and foremost, at the heart of every ventilation system is a good control system. While I’m most familiar with the Maximus, there are a wide variety of control systems out there. Skov, Big Dutchman, IGenius, Fancom, etc. In every case these systems will need to be checked to ensure that the ventilation stages are set properly. This is especially important in a new barn that has not yet gone through a full year’s operation.

In newer applications, the controls allow for remote monitoring. While in the comfort of our barn’s office, we can go through the settings. Double checking the settings allows for us to not only ensure the settings are proper, but also helps remind us of what is supposed to happen at specific temperature or humidity readings. In older installations, going through the settings on your controller may not be as simple, but it is without a doubt just as important.

Verify alarm system
For those of us who are already sitting comfortably at our desk, hopefully with a warm cup of coffee, I would suggest that the next thing to verify is the alarm system. While going through the alarms, make certain that the proper person is being contacted. Who is second in the list? Are phone numbers and email addresses correct? In my opinion, there is a balance between the messages I need immediately and those that can wait. Adjust your alarm system accordingly.

Going through your settings not only ensures you are ready for the change in weather, it has the added benefit of helping you familiarize yourself with your system. If there is something you want clarified or changed, now is the time to do it. Once an emergency happens, it’s too late. Don’t be afraid of calling your controls salesperson or service technician. After all, that’s what they are there for.

Inspect barn
Now is when the real work starts. The barn inspection. There is nothing, and I mean nothing, that beats spending time in the barn. It’s the only way you can know what is truly happening inside.

Feeling the air, testing the system as it goes through each stage. But for many of us, we are balancing being in the barn with being in the fields or being pulled to another project. A deliberate service schedule can help alleviate so many headaches, and spring is the perfect time to schedule some checks.

Checking the air inlets:
  • Have they been damaged by ice over the winter?
  • Do they still open and close properly?
  • Are the cables still tight?
  • Are there any corrosion or moisture issues that should be addressed?
  • When the actuators close, are all of the inlets closed?
Checking our cooling pad:
  • Is there fluid in the tank?
  • Does the pump work?
  • Are there any leaks on the system?
  • What is the condition of the pads?
Check fans
And then, of course, we come to the fans. Making certain these are ready for the warm weather is so important. The last thing I would want is a tunnel fan having a broken fan belt at 40°C. Going through each fan, ensuring the belts are in good condition, replacing those that aren’t can really help avoid catastrophes.

When dealing with electricity, please always proceed with caution. Properly insulated screwdrivers are no comparison to simply shutting the breaker off. Saving five minutes to do something “live” isn’t worth the potential hospital visit.

If you aren’t comfortable using an electrical meter to make certain the power is off, there is a neat device called a “volt tick” voltage tester. Seeing how they range from $15 to $45, they are cheap insurance in my mind.

While doing the fan inspection, lube and grease as necessary to keep the bearings in top shape. This is an often-overlooked item that doesn’t take long to complete. Finally, make sure to take a look at the generator. Winter snows, farm machinery hitting powerlines, trees falling and lightning strikes all have prevalence during different seasons and the generator needs to be ready for any eventuality.

Prevent a catastrophe
Now an article on maintenance would be lacking if we didn’t include a small paragraph or two on catastrophe avoidance. What happens if your control system goes down, the power goes out, or lightning strikes?

Accidents are just that, accidents, and they happen, but there are certain things we can do to help minimize problems. A manual thermostat bypassing the control system can be set to turn on fans if the control system goes down.

Having multiple alarm options, like a phone dialer coupled with an SMS alert, is also a good idea.

Installing surge protection on the power lines coming into the barn and battery backup on controls can help too.

Producers have all invested heavily to ensure their operations run the way they want them to.

Taking care of the mechanical equipment before it is an emergency allows us to focus our time where it matters and be more effective farmers.

A bit about me
I was raised first on a dairy farm in Quebec and later on a grain and sheep operation in Alberta. When my family moved out west, my father also started selling and servicing poultry equipment and I accompanied him on installations, learning the industry along the way. Then for 15 years I worked in plumbing and gasfitting, before joining my father and brothers at Kaiser Ag, which sells and services farming equipment. 


Ben Kaiser is a master gasfitter and master plumber. He works with his father Martin and his three brothers at Kaiser Ag and specializes in poultry barn construction and installations.

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