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OSU Extension

College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences

December 6, 2022 - 10:40am --

As much as I dislike saying this, I’d say winter is here to stay for the next two-four months. It is important as livestock producers to keep an eye on the ventilation systems in their buildings during the winter. If you are someone who uses heat lamps during the winter, it is very important to use every precaution when those are in use in your barns.

The Farmer’s Almanac predicts our winter will be colder than normal, with the coldest temperatures in early December and late January to mid-February. In late November to early December and early to mid-January is when the snowiest periods will be. April will be cooler than normal, while May will be warmer. Precipitation will be normal. Summer will be warmer than normal. Rainfall will be below normal in the east and near normal in the west. The hottest periods will be in mid-July and early and late August. September and October will be warmer and rainier than normal, on average.

Winter ventilation is very important for animals who are housed indoors during the winter. In the summer months you can open the barns up to remove heat and allow fresh air to circulate into the barns. In the winter some may think you should close it up to help keep the animals warmer, but that can affect them. It is very important to have proper ventilation in your barns to remove ammonia, contaminants and humidity while also remembering to avoid drafts.

Here are ways to create fresh air flow in livestock barns

There are two ways to help create fresh air flow in barns. The first is natural. When you use the natural method, you are using wind to remove the stale air. This can be achieved because hot air rises with thermal buoyancy so when wind is introduced by nature it helps get rid of the stale air. The second method is mechanical. This is using fans and intake and exhaust machines. Fresh air enters the intake area in the barn then the stale air exists at the exhaust area of the barn.

Deciding which kind of bedding for you animals can either help or hurt their overall health. It is difficult to find a good type of bedding that is not dusty, absorbent, able to hold ammonia and cheap. Straw a common type of bedding material because it is cheap, but it is not absorbent. It is high in cellulose which causes it to ferment. Wood chips are not absorbent and dusty. You can either choose to clean out pens more often or try the deep bedding method with your animals.   

The deep bedding method is what I used last winter in a few of my bigger pens. What you do for this method is you keep putting fresh bedding on top of the old bedding, making sure you are putting enough straw/sawdust down that when you kneel down your knee doesn’t get wet. I put fresh straw down 1-2 times a week. The pros for this are you are not cleaning pens out every week during the winter, it helps keep the animal’s dryer and it created great fertilizer when you clean it out in the spring. The major con I had was it gets so thick it is very difficult to clean out when you only have a pitchfork. With this method you need to make sure you have good ventilation in the barn because when you do not regularly put fresh bedding down the ammonia smell can cause issues.

To avoid barn fires secure lamp with chains, keep out of reach of animals

I wanted to touch on the topic about heat lamps because a lot of us use them in the winter to keep animals warm and especially when new life comes into the world. When you use heat lamps you are at risk for a barn fire, which is why every precaution should be taken to try and avoid that. Most heat lamps are poorly made, with short thin cords and really do not have the best attachment areas. If you must use heat lamps secure them with chains and make sure the cord is out of the animals reach. Do not use the poorly made ones, I use the ones from Premier the downside to them is they are around $45 each but to me that price is worth it. When using lamps make sure all dust and cobwebs have been removed before turning it on. It is recommended to plug the heat lamp into the wall and not into an extension cord because that can increase the risk for a fire. It is recommended to follow all warnings that are listed on the products label.

Poor ventilation can have major impacts on your livestock and their productivity, it is important that if they are moved indoors during the winter that the stale air inside is able to be removed and fresh is brought in. When using heat lamps in barns make sure they are secured tightly so they cannot be bumped and accidently cause a barn fire.


Shelby Tedrow is a Program Assistant for ANR and 4-H Youth Development with the OSU Extension Wayne County office.
This article was previously published in The Daily Record.