More than forty years ago a Yorkshire based company, Lamcatec, adapted a revolutionary bonded panel to construct pig buildings.
It was a French system which had previously been used for constructing domestic housing. Combined with an advanced, for its time, ventilation system it allowed grower and finisher pigs to grow to their full potential. The building was known as the MEATSPEED. It featured fully slatted floors, not universally adopted at that time, usually feed hoppers with one feed space for five pigs for ad lib feeding to appetite, again not a common system for bacon pigs, plus an automatic jet ventilation system. Air was introduced at the ridge through variable inlets and out through wall mounted fans and accurately controlled the well insulated environment.
All these advanced features were housed in a revolutionary building shell. Rigid insulation in surrounding timber frames was glued to sheet materials, pig proof internally and weatherproof externally. Essentially monocoque construction, as in aircraft and formula 1 cars of the time, produced very rigid panels capable of being used as structure rather than cladding. Plastic coated steels were used externally with cleverly engineered panel joints and corners making them weatherproof and windproof. For a time panels were also used to form fully insulated integral roofs but limitations on sealant performance demoted these elements to very efficient roof insulation panels with more traditional roof cladding sheets above.
A more efficient use of the materials available could not be envisaged. The quality and performance were industry leading. The wall panels were structural, insulated, weather and pig proof and relatively lightweight. Buildings were erected very quickly using only manpower on site. The panels were pre-formed in the factory and delivered flat packed to site. After this pioneering development the ensuing years saw the bonded panel principal adopted, with varying degrees of success, by the industry as a whole. Piggeries built from bonded panels were here to stay.
And stay they have. You might feel that having created the principle and established the form there was little to learn over the next forty years. Indeed the basic function and construction principles remain the same. It is the detail with its story of continuous improvement and refinement which makes today’s MEATSPEED every bit as much a product of its time as its predecessor.
So what precisely does a building shell do?
Fundamentally it provides a shelter for pigs to live in. Once housed in whatever group size is required the emphasis turns to performance; not initially of the pig but its house. It is a fact that if an animal is kept in an environment that is neither too hot nor too cold then it is going to utilise its food for growth as opposed to maintaining a comfortable temperature. It is also an indicator of shell thermal performance that the UK is the only northern European country not routinely heating our finishing houses.
In addition to thermal comfort the pigs also require constantly freshened air. In order for this to take place efficiently, heat should only be sacrificed to warm incoming air with heat loss through the structure minimized at all time. This interaction and requirement remains constant throughout the building’s life. Shutting the insulation away in hard faced bonded panels at time of manufacture, and assuming maintenance or damage repair if required, makes this possible.
The biggest change has been to ventilation. Whilst the original MEATSPEED was fan ventilated the open plan rooms allowed for the adoption and subsequent popularity of automatically controlled natural ventilation (ACNV) The relatively narrow buildings, the lower power requirement and usage, built in failsafe with the curtains remaining in set position until power was restored and a clear set of siteing rules made it the ventilation system of choice for many years.
During that time buildings became wider, finishing weights gained fifteen kilos and the annual occurrence of still days significantly increased. In addition summer temperatures began setting records nearly year on year. ACNV buildings were also quite noticeably a UK only phenomenon. Mainland Europe continued to use the fan, developing more and more sophisticated systems.
Techniques to improve the performance of ACNV were introduced over time. Stack relief, the siteing of chimneys in the ridge of the building, allowed more stale air to leave the building and encouraged more fresh air to enter from below. It was also found that if extract fans were placed in these chimneys even more air could be vented. With curtains acting as adjustable inlets and failsafe and ridge mounted extract fans the wheel appeared to have come full circle.
The answer was to combine the sophistication of continental ventilation systems with the performance of UK building shells. For the first time we could calculate in detail a buildings ventilation requirement and predict the outcome before construction commenced. In addition subsequent like for like performance trials showed how much potential ground had been lost by ACNV to its fanned counterparts.
Finally we are able to state that our 21st century model allows pigs to realise their full genetic potential, as did its original. SKOV, our chosen partner for ventilation systems, are one of the largest agricultural ventilation companies in the world. Their large R&D division continuously keep their systems at the leading edge of ventilation technology.
At one time building technology seemed in many ways to be mainly focussed on the rearing and finishing pig. Performance parameters were not so tight for the breeding animal. The leaner, prolific breeding pig is changing all that and as more of them are housed in ‘MEATSPEED’ conditions the more this is becoming apparent. In service, gestation and especially farrowing extra nurture is paying dividends. As progress asks more and more of the sow ideally for less and less, then environment assumes an ever more important role. To that end the very best and latest designs, with all the attention to performance of a finishing building, also carry the name MEATSPEED.
Slatted or straw based, the buildings have full SKOV ventilation. Shell construction is as for rearing buildings. It is interesting to note that it is environment and its control, as far as buildings are concerned, which determines FCR and DLWG. Where comparisons between straw and slatted systems have been made no discernible performance difference is seen and so, for both breeding and rearing on slats or straw, all carry the MEATSPEED name.
Pressure on margins continues to increase and is forcing producers to search ever harder for ways to lower costs of production. Consequentially, the best way is by wise investment. Businesses that do not invest do not stand still but inevitably fail with only individual circumstances deciding when. Upwards and onwards is the answer.
That is not to say that the past has nothing to offer-take the MEATSPEED for instance.
This article first appeared in the March 2017 issue of Pig World
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