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The next step in barn ventilation: Automation

Suzanne Meck for Progressive Dairyman Published on 06 November 2017
Ceiling fan

Looking for ways to add efficiency to the farm? Winter can be a great time to review the ventilation in your barn and make improvements.

Although a complete overhaul to your current ventilation system might be a bit out of reach, there are simple adjustments you can make to increase automation and efficiency with minimal investment.

The basics

A great first step to making ventilation improvements is to complete a ventilation audit and identify the weaknesses. When reviewing ventilation, there are two main aspects to evaluate: air exchange and air flow.

Air exchange is the volume of air moving into and out of the barn. It is measured in cubic feet per minute. Air flow is how fast the air is moving through the barn and is measured in miles per hour. Many resources, such as local extension or online tools, are available to help evaluate the air exchange and air flow in a facility.

It’s important to remember air flow and air exchange in a building should be integrated into a complete ventilation system. Once it is determined whether the barn has enough ventilation, begin to take basic steps to automate it.

The easiest step to add automation is to use a thermostat for fans. Depending on the size of the barn and the number of fans, one thermostat may be able to turn them all on at once, or a series of thermostats can turn on banks of fans as the temperatures change.

Thermostats can be a solution to improve ventilation with other benefits. Small changes in ventilation can have huge impacts on milk production and cow health, which mean improvements to the bottom line. Thermostats to stage on fans can also help reduce energy costs.

Side curtain walls are another area that may benefit from using a thermostat. Just like fans, the curtain walls should be adjusted based on the temperature to ensure maximum comfort for cows. Allowing thermostats to control curtain walls is also important in the wintertime.

Barns can often sweat during the cold season, leading to respiratory problems. Thermostats ensure the barn maintains an ideal temperature to prevent condensation and create a healthier environment.

Automation efficiency

Another great tool for improving the efficiency of ventilation is to use variable-frequency drives (VFD) for fans. Add VFD motors to current fans or replace fans with new versions with built-in VFDs. A VFD motor allows fans to automatically ramp up and down as the temperatures change.

One downside of VFD motors is: Often, the slower speeds require more energy. New technology in electronically commutated motors results in fans that are truly efficient. As their speed is reduced, the amount of energy the motors consume also decreases. For a small investment, these units can provide big returns in production improvements and energy savings.

Winter is also a good time to evaluate water cooling needs. If there is no water cooling, now is the time to consider the options, select the best cooling for the facility and make plans to install it in the spring.

If there is a cooling system in place, make sure it is properly winterized to prevent maintenance issues in the spring. Automation can be used in this area as well, in the form of thermostats or time clocks.

Integrating ventilation

Integrating all ventilation and cooling needs provides maximum efficiency. If ready to take ventilation automation to the next level, there are several controllers that can adjust the conditions in the barn based on temperature, wind, outside precipitation and other factors. These control systems typically have several relays that can control fans, curtains, water cooling and more.

Often, the current ventilation and cooling systems can be integrated into these high-tech controllers and also provide outlets for upgrading further in the future.

Automating ventilation and cooling systems has year-round benefits. Spring and fall can often be challenging with warm days and cool nights. Utilizing thermostats and other controls ensures your herd is always receiving optimal air exchange and air flow when they need it.

During the summer, humidity can pose a challenge to effectively cool cows, and pop-up thunderstorms can threaten the dryness of cow beds.

New controls that can automatically make adjustments to the cooling systems and curtain walls help take the burden off people to monitor the environment and manually make changes based on cow needs. Even winter sees a benefit from automated controls.

Despite the colder weather, cows still need fresh air circulating through the barn. Automated controls can ensure air exchange is maintained all year.

It’s easy to improve an existing facility and see huge improvements with a minimal investment. Take advantage of these winter months to evaluate the current ventilation. Choose a few efficiencies to focus on adjusting and, in the spring, you will surely see a benefit.  end mark

PHOTO: With the touch of a button, barn ventilation can be made simple and effective by adding automated technologies to control fans, curtains and water-cooling systems. Photo by Mike Dixon.

Suzanne Meck is a freelance writer and works with small companies in the animal health industries to develop and promote their brand. Email Suzanne Meck.

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