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Researchers Study Alternative Winter Farrowing System

by 5m Editor
1 July 2003, at 12:00am

IOWA - Iowa State University researchers are working on an alternative winter farrowing system that could boost niche markets for sustainably raised pork.

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"Many of the niche markets for pork require farrowing outdoors or indoors in bedded pens, but this is a problem during Iowa's cold winters, " said animal science professor Mark Honeyman, who received a $25,000 first-year grant from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture to test the idea. "The result is a scarcity of marketable fresh pork for these premium markets during the summer months."

The alternative system used outdoor farrowing huts placed inside a 30X80-ft. metal pole building at the ISU Allee Demonstration Farm near Newell. The only heat sources were heat lamps and a radiant tube heater, used in industrial and greenhouse applications, installed near the roof line. Cost of the tube heater was $2,300.

Huts were arranged back-to-back in two rows, with a common creep area between the huts for baby pigs. The front of each hut was left open, allowing sows access to an adjoining, unheated building for water and feed. The bedding absorbs baby pig wastes, which cuts labor costs. The system does not use forced-air heat, so drafts are kept to a minimum.

Honeyman said results from the first-year trial were favorable.

"We were able to maintain a 50-degree indoor temperature," he said. "The energy cost per pig, which included electricity for the heat lamps and LP gas for the radiant heater, was $3.80, which seemed reasonable."

The trial included 36 sows raised in four groups. They weaned 322 pigs, or 8.9 pigs per sow, matching the current national average determined by the USDA National Animal Health Monitoring System.

Lori Lyon, quality manager for Niman Ranch Meats in Thornton, Iowa, said a more reliable supply of pigs from alternative systems is needed. Sixty-five percent of the farmers who raise hogs for the California-based company are from Iowa, and receive premiums for the hogs raised under specified conditions without antibiotics.

"We slaughter 2,000 head of hogs a week and we could use an extra 200 head if the supply was consistent mid-May through mid-August, when it generally drops," she said. "A more consistent supply would allow us to grow our business, there’s no question."

Jay Harmon, ISU agricultural and biosystems engineering, and James Kliebenstein, ISU economics, are working with Honeyman on the Leopold Center grant project. Plans for the second and third years of the project include further refinement of the system, an economic analysis, field day, and a farmer survey.

The Leopold Center also helped launch the Pork Niche Market Working Group (PNMWG) that is studying other barriers in the development of pork niche markets, and the Hoop Group research team at ISU.

The Leopold Center also helped launch the Pork Niche Market Working Group (PNMWG) that is studying other barriers in the development of pork niche markets, and the Hoop Group research team at ISU. Through its research and education programs, the Leopold Center supports the development of profitable farming systems that conserve natural resources. Center funding comes from state appropriations and from fees on nitrogen fertilizer and pesticides, as established by the 1987 Iowa Groundwater Protection Act.

Source: Iowa State University - 3rd June 2003

5m Editor