Farrowing Room Sanitation

Factsheet - ISSN 1198-712X   -   Copyright King's Printer for Ontario
Agdex#: 441/10
Publication Date: January 2012
Order#: 12-005W
Last Reviewed: February 16, 2016
Written by: E. Barrie, Sow-Weaner Specialist, OMAFRA, Stratford

Table of Contents

  1. High-Pressure Washing
  2. Disinfecting
  3. Water Quality
  4. Observation

Any discussion on farrowing room management begins with sanitation. The challenges to achieving some level of sanitation in an enclosed space that is usually part of a larger facility, where people, pigs, air, products and often rodents intermingle are significant. Compounding this situation is the fact that facilities are often over-used. There is rarely enough time to complete the clean-up, dry the facility, heat it up and reload it with late gestation animals. It is also an accepted practice to run farrowing rooms continually, only washing farrowing crates when they become available as sows are weaned, with no attempt made to empty complete rooms for clean-up.

Initial clean-up

Ideally, empty the farrowing room completely of all animals.

  • Scrape away all manure, spilled feed and feed residues from feeders.
  • Run the feed system, if it is isolated from the main delivery system, to remove all feed from delivery tubes, dispensers and drop tubes.
  • Cover or remove items that should not be exposed to pressure washing, including fan motors, heaters, temperature and ventilation controllers, electrical plugs, as well as sensitive feed delivery equipment.
  • Wet the whole facility down with a cold water soaking to soften built-up residues.
  • While the room is soaking in cold water – generally from the time the sows are moved out one day to the start of washing the next day – hand-wash equipment such as the feed delivery system, using low pressure and equipment such as car wash brushes.
  • Also during this time, rinse and check the inside of feed drop tubes to be sure they are clean and free from residues.
  • Clean ventilation equipment with brushes and compressed air – typically a small air compressor electrically powered and mounted on a cart. Disconnect fans from electrical sources, by either unplugging or using electrical lockouts on the circuit breaker, before brush cleaning or washing gently with a hand brush.
  • Clean shrouds and louvers over fans the same way, ideally from the outside of the building.
  • Clean heating vents according to the manufacturer�s specifications. Have this done by someone trained in the practice.
  • Be sure to remove all residues on hot air furnaces so they are not just blown around inside the cover where they can accumulate and possibly ignite.
  • Remove heat lamps from the room, hand-wash and disinfect. If removal from the room is not possible, hang them at one location in the room to avoid damage from pressure washing. If heat lamps are kept in the room, disinfect them again after pressure washing and before replacing on the farrowing crates.
  • Wipe cords, plugs and bulbs free of contaminants by hand and disinfect the same way, allowing them to dry well before being reinstalled.
  • Remove heat pads if it is an accepted practice in the facility or unplug them if they are to be washed in place. Some producers prefer to remove creep heating covers at this time as well.
  • It is also reasonable to remove front and back farrowing pen gates as well as tail guards to facilitate cleaning of all surfaces.

High-Pressure Washing

High-pressure washing is usually started the day after the room is emptied and soaked. Currently, there are commercial machines available that can generate pressures in excess of 20,700 KPa (3,000 PSI) and volumes of 18 L/min (4 gal/min). Hot washer units can create these pressures and flow rates as well as water temperatures close to 93°C.

There are extreme risks with this type of equipment. With higher pressure, these washers can segregate concrete into component parts and erode it very quickly. They can remove paint, powder coatings and even zinc from galvanized penning material. They represent a serious threat to human health if directed onto unprotected skin, cutting through the skin and injecting water or particles of eroded cement or fixtures into the soft tissue beneath the skin.

It is extremely important that the person using the washer be fully trained in its operation and be well equipped with all safety equipment, including boots, outer clothing, goggles and face masks, ear muffs and gloves.

Hot water also poses an additional threat: keep temperatures below 60°C or follow the recommendations of the pump manufacturer. The main benefit of using hot water is that it melts the fats and greases that result from a build-up of fecal matter. In practice, hot water washing is viewed as being twice as fast as cold water washing to achieve similar results.

There is a variety of nozzles available for pressure washers; nozzles with a broader pattern (captured on flat surfaces, good wrap-around on spindles) are favoured. In addition, some people prefer a pulsing nozzle and feel it gives a better cleaning action.

The typical washing process is an initial wash-down followed by a reduced pressure rinse:

  • Apply a second washing using a degreasing compound or detergent to remove any residues left in corners or crevices.
  • After each high-pressure washing, use a quick low-pressure wash-down to remove particles dislodged by the high pressure spray. Turn over and wash all loose structural items – gates, feeders, etc. – from all directions, if possible. Ensure that all solid structures are completely washed.


The varying chemical composition of water in different parts of Ontario affects the effectiveness of degreaser products. Try out different degreaser products, one by one, to see which works best with your water.

Apply disinfectant with a foaming agent, usually in a pressure washer, using a low-pressure, low-volume application. The foam sticks to fixtures and equipment and spreads the disinfectant across the surface as it dries and evaporates. Not all disinfectants work the same way, so follow the manufacturer�s directions carefully.

Use the disinfectant(s) that will address the greatest threat to the health of your herd. Consult with your veterinarian, who may take swabs of penning and equipment to determine what micro-organisms are present in your production system. Many disinfectants are broad spectrum. They will control or destroy a range of infectious organisms. Other products are very specific and will only destroy organisms in a very narrow spectrum. If you have a situation that has a wide range of causal organisms, you may require more than one disinfectant.

The intent is to cover all the interior surfaces of the farrowing room that an animal may contact and to remove all material from any surfaces that may have contained infectious organisms from previous animal exposure.

The most important point in the disinfection process is the application procedure of the selected disinfectant:

  • Read the label. Ideally, at least two people involved in the process should read it. Everyone must understand the exact areas to be treated.
  • If the application is determined by square footage,� measure, calculate and note the areas to be covered. Include farrowing crates, pen partitions, gates and spindles in the measurements and calculations. If all equipment is similar, measure one crate carefully, and multiply its measurements by the number of crates. Include flat surface areas of floors, walls, ceilings and pen partitions. If the feed delivery is by a cart or mechanical system, include these as well.
  • Once the treatment area is established, calculate the amount of disinfectant needed for the application. There is absolutely no valid reason to reduce the application rate or simply do �what has always been done.�
  • Some facilities mix the disinfectant in a separate tank with the required amount of water for the area being treated. Some apply it through a suction line on a pressure washer. If applying with this method, calculate the flow rate of the washer, usually at a much reduced pressure, using a 20-L bucket and a watch, and set the suction control accordingly.
  • Continue to apply the disinfectant until the required amount is applied. Once you have perfected the pressure and flow rate, record the settings for future use.
  • Reassemble all the equipment, start some fans to move air out of the building, then turn on the heat. Heat enhances drying and warms the room for incoming animals, but also has an effect on biological organisms. Drying is deadly to many. The removal of all water and moisture from the farrowing room greatly reduces the places where bacteria can either grow or survive in the absence of live animals. Four days is considered very reasonable for a drying time. Whatever the dictates of economics or need for the room are, drying is a very useful but under-rated method of controlling biological organisms.

Second, but of equal importance, disinfectants have very strict safety standards when handled by people. Follow all safety precautions. This may involve eye, ear and skin protection, as well as respiratory and oral precautions. Observe them all. If you have any doubts or concerns, contact the sales representative or the technical information number on the info sheets provided with the products.

Third, observe any cautions on using some products on metals, plastics or rubber compounds, as well as electrical components. It is important to follow label directions.

Water Quality

The quality of the water used on hog operations was not examined beyond bacterial contents until recently. The concerns that are arising revolve around the acidity (pH) of the water and the content of various minerals dissolved in the water.

A number of the newer products used as disinfectants are very susceptible to having some of their active ingredients absorbed onto the dissolved material in the water or are seriously weakened by either high or low pH of the water. Have a water sample tested by a laboratory, such as a feed analysis lab or a lab recommended by the disinfectant supplier you are using. Include the info sheet from your disinfectant product with your request, to ensure the proper tests are carried out. If the water tests unfavourably, it might be possible to correct it with a water treatment system. This system would probably only need to be used for applying the disinfectant, as wash water only needs to be clean. Discuss the results of your water test with your feed supplier when looking at animal performance records.


The final step in an ongoing sanitation process is to regularly observe events in the facility after it is filled and back in production. Watch for unusual events that could be caused by a breakdown in the disinfection process, such as scouring flu�like symptoms or skin infections. Chronic issues usually have a cause, and a solution may be found in observing and recording events as they occur.

This Factsheet was written by Ed Barrie, Sow-Weaner Specialist, OMAFRA, Stratford.

For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300
E-mail: ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca