COLUMBIA, Mo.– With a few simple steps, farmers with heated livestock buildings might be able to cut their energy expenditures substantially at little or no cost.

The biggest loss of energy is through the ventilation system, says University of Missouri Extension energy specialist Don Day.

“We need a certain amount of ventilation to keep humidity and odors down, but if we overventilate with fans running when heaters are on, there is a lot of heat loss,” he says.

Day recommends setting fans to prevent overventilation. It’s also important to keep fan blades and ventilation inlets clean so airflow is not restricted. Cut weeds growing near fans or inlets so they don’t impede airflow.

Keep screens on outside fans clean, Day says. He recommends mesh screens with larger openings for better airflow. Screens with 1/8-inch openings can cut airflow from the fans in half.

“Turn pilot lights on heaters off when they’re not in use,” he says. “A pilot light can actually consume up to a third of a gallon of propane a day.”

Check heaters for efficiency, clean them regularly, and inspect burners for proper operation. This can both improve energy efficiency and prevent fires.

Zone heating also can save energy.

“In farrowing houses or pig nurseries, those young pigs need a warmer environment, around 90 degrees,” Day says. “To keep the whole building that warm uses a lot of energy and also makes it uncomfortable for sows. Zone heating saves energy and keeps the building comfortable for various sizes of livestock.”

When old fans and heaters wear out, consider higher-efficiency models when replacing them.

Biomass heaters will not only lessen dependence on fossil fuels but also can lower costs by using products raised on the farm.

For more information from MU Extension on energy and energy conservation, go to


Writer: Jason Vance