Buildings for Livestock and Poultry Require Special Electrical Approaches

When fire strikes a farm building, the damage can be devastating. Beyond the impacts to the structure itself, a fire can destroy a large number of animals, and can bring years of herd improvements to a tragic end.

Because most farm fire losses are caused by electrical problems, Indiana farmers need to follow proper electrical safety standards when constructing livestock and poultry structures, says Rick Coons, CEO at Indiana Electric Cooperatives (IEC). “Beyond the potential for fires, improperly wired buildings can create ventilation problems, leading to suffocation. That’s why the National Electric Code establishes special standards for structures that house farm animals.”

The wiring practices that are used in homes and light commercial construction are often inadequate for housing animals, explains Coons. “Livestock barns and similar structures are exposed to moisture, corrosive gases like hydrogen sulfide and ammonia, dust, and damage from animal contact and rodents. That means wiring and other electrical equipment tends to deteriorate more rapidly. Using the right equipment and installing it correctly will prevent damage and help farmers achieve better production efficiency and safety for animals and farm workers.”

IEC recommends that Indiana farmers follow practices such as these when building or renovating structures for poultry and livestock:

  • Choose equipment designed for moist, dusty environments and made from materials that do not corrode. For example, electric motors for powering ventilation equipment or moving feed should have enclosed designs.
  • Use Type UF cable or non-metallic materials in writing. Surface-mount wiring, rather than conceal it within walls or ceilings. Surface mounting is usually cheaper and easier and won’t interfere with the vapor barrier. Damage from rodents and other causes is also easier to see.
  • If you install conduit, choose rigid Schedule 40 PVC, and seal it to prevent condensation.
  • Use moisture-proof components such as switches and junction boxes. Run wiring through the bottom of the box to reduce the possibility of water leaking into the box from the cable or conduit.
  • Receptacles and light switches should be in locations that are inaccessible to animals.
  • Limit the number of fans per circuit to no more than two, and use manual resets rather than automatic devices that may keep trying to restart and burn out the motor. Keeping fans dust-free will improve their efficiency and ensure longer operating life.
  • When designing ventilation systems, consider the volume of air to be moved, as well as the impact of odors, moisture, and heat from animals and equipment.
  • Designing separate zones for climate control allows you to save energy and match heating and ventilation to animal needs. For example, baby animals may require more precise control during inclement weather than adult animals.

“It’s also a good idea to ask an electrician to calculate the sizes of the circuits you’ll need,” adds Coons. “That way, you’ll have enough power to meet the building’s maximum needs. An electrician will also ensure that all circuits and equipment are properly grounded, to protect you and the animals from shock or fire.”

SOURCES: Access Energy Cooperative,  North Dakota State University Extension,  Purdue Extension, University of Maryland Cooperative Extension.