Sustainable Straw Based Animal Welfare Friendly Growing Unit for Hogs

Final Report for FNC12-890

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2012: $7,450.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


  • Project Duration:  2012 to 2014
  • Date of Report:    April 29, 2014

My farming operation consists of a 240 acre crop and livestock farm that includes hogs (farrow to finish) and cattle (beef cows and calves).  I also raise corn, beans, alfalfa, grass hay, pasture, oats, wheat, and also have CRP.  We use rotational grazing in our pastures.

I do rotational grazing with my pasture and cows.  I am in the 5th year of a CSP contract for rotational grazing, pasture watering system that includes wildlife escape, harvesting hay in a manner that allows wildlife escape, tissue sampling and analysis to improve nitrogen management, resource conservation crop rotation, and planting of covers crops to scavenge nitrogen.  In the last 10 years I fenced in my entire 160 acres and set up grazing paddocks on 40 acres and a pasture watering system that includes fountains that are designed for summer use, and certain fountains that are set up for year round use.  I also set up a living snow fence on the farm in 1997.  In 2001, I designed and modified an existing pole barn into a deep-bedded sow and piglet nursery.  Prior to that, after the hog price collapse of 1998, I remodeled my existing raised crate farrowing barn into a deep straw farrowing barn. 


(1)   Renovate an existing 24 by 64 foot confinement building with a partial pit that would make the building suitable as a straw-based animal-welfare-friendly growing unit.

(2)   Look at pig performance and pig flow for the entire hog operation.

(3)   Design the building to be easy for cleanout.

(4)   Ensure good air quality in the building that exceeds its previous use as a confinement unit.

(5)   Have a pleasant atmosphere to work in after the remodel.

(6)   Have a space and pen(s) designed to address sick or injured pigs.


Building Access and Cleaning
I started the project by constructing an 8 foot door opening on the east side of the building and an 8 foot door opening in the middle of the building between the 24 by 30 foot room and the other 24 by 34 foot room.  This gave me skid loader access to the entire building so I could easily remove all the old gating, feeders, fencing and waterers from the building. I then cleaned and washed out the building.  I then put in 3 large windows to give natural light and to create a more open atmosphere.  In the fall of 2012, I constructed a large outdoor access pad to the building for entering the building with the skid loader and then having the ability to turn around outside with the skid loader to load a manure spreader.

Feed Storage and Pit Capping
I then built a pad for two feed bulk tanks.  The next major phase of the project was capping a major portion of the existing slats over their respective pits. The 24 by 64 foot building is divided into two rooms, with the west room having a cement pit in the middle of the room and the east room having a pit on the north half of the room.  For the east room, we did a 2” cap of cement over the portion of the slats that we wanted to cover.  In this 13 foot by 30 foot area, we placed two feeder pads, and we placed in the middle -- over the open slats  -- a 6 by 13 foot watering area that would also be a dunging area, along with two 2 by 13 foot dunging areas on the other side of each of the feeder pads (see sketch drawing for more detail).  The south side of the east room, which is 9 feet by 30 feet, is the bedded portion of the room.  Down the middle of this room (24 by 30) we had a divider fence and on each end of the room, a door  provided access to their respective feeders, watering system, and dunging area.  The general concept used here was the south side of the room was the sleeping area in which straw is provided and the north side of the room for watering, dunging, and eating. Included in this remodel we also re-sheeted ½ the north wall and reinsulated that entire wall.

In the west room we capped half of the pit in the middle with 5’ of cement as well as placing rebar in the center cap 6 inches apart.  In this room, the cement had to be thicker because we needed to drive the skid loader over the top to clean it out.  In this room, the east end of the room is the bedded area. The west 2/3rds of the room is where there are two feeders and feeder pads placed.  The southwest area of the room is designed for up to 4 sick or injured pigs.  These 4 pens are about six by eight feet each.  The fencing in this area is portable so the pen area can be either utilized by 4 pens or set up into two pens or one big pen.

We reinsulated the entire ceiling of the building and built ventilating chutes, so we would have a dry building. We installed blue board insulation under all the cement capping we did as well.

Ventilation and Air Quality
We installed new variable speed pit fans and installed new motors as needed in wall fans. The fact that we capped about 2/3’s of the existing slats over the pitted areas in the 24 by 64 foot building dramatically increased air quality.

John Schmidt: I worked with John in the designing of a better natural lighting system which included window and large door access for the building.  The idea was to get rid of the previous dungeon effect of the building.  He also designed the outside cement pad for skid loader access to the building for cleaning manure.

 Wayne Martin: I worked with Wayne Martin from the University of Minnesota Extension Service, who is also the Coordinator of the Alternative Livestock Systems at the University of Minnesota.  Wayne lined up a meeting with the U of M Engineering Department regarding capping of the cement pit.  Wayne also is coordinating a webinar for me that is planned for early May of 2014.

Larry Jacobs: Larry Jacobs of the University of Minnesota Engineering Department consulted with me on the phone and did an in-person meeting arranged by Wayne Martin regarding technical advice in devising a plan to cap existing slats.

Myron Fixen and Dennis Pohlen: Myron and Dennis worked with me in designing the cement floor and the remodeling and capping of the existing pit, incorporating the recommendations from Larry Jacobson.  They also designed gate placement and remodeling as well as feeder placement. Dennis worked with me on consulting on floor strength and reinforcement in the pit area that was capped.

Marlene and Diane Halverson: Marlene and Diane consulted with me on options on how to achieve the most animal welfare friendly system possible in both big pen layout, and also having spaces for animals that either got sick or injured.

Scott Sobocinski: Scott assisted in testing procedures of the remodel plan.

Phillip Kramer: Phil is a field agent with Niman Ranch and consulted on building design and is assisting in outreach to Niman Ranch hog farmers

In terms of results achieved:

(1)   The renovation of the building (24 by 64 foot) with the partial pit made the building suitable as a straw-based animal-welfare-friendly unit.

(2)   In conducting a couple of feed trials, pig performance in the building went extremely well in terms of pig comfort and their rate of gain per pound of feed fed, resulting in 40% less feed per pound of gain compared to pigs in this weight category fed outside.

(3)   The building is very easy to clean out because the pigs can be gated into the feeding area during clean out.  The gating is portable, light, and easy to move.

(4)   Air quality in the building is superior to when it was previously used as a pig confinement unit.  The audit team for both Niman Ranch and Chipotle thought it was exceptional.  Capping 2/3rds of the pit was a main factor in improving air quality.

(5)   The atmosphere in the building after the remodel is pleasant, windows installation made an exceptional difference.  The dungeon effect is gone.

(6)   Having a sick and injured pen area makes the facility easy to deal with for those animals.

In terms of results expected: I believed that this 24 by 64 foot building could be remodeled and that its original use which helped made my hog operation competitive over 30 years ago, could now make my alternative swine animal welfare system (that I have been adapting since the early to mid-90’s), useable so that I could have the last confinement building on my farm as a working asset that contributes positively to my sustainable swine operation.

What I learned: Do research, consult with experts like extension, consult with contractors, and consult with builders and engineers and other farmers

Affected My Farm: Made my farm more competitive and more pleasant to work in regarding my hog operation.

Overcome Identified Barriers: 
(1)Wanted to use the pit in both rooms but didn’t want straw to end up in the pits, accomplished that with fencing and raised access pads to keep straw out of the pit. 
(2)Wanted the major dunging to occur in the slatted area, accomplished that by water placement in the slatted areas kept. 
(3)Wanted good air quality, accomplished that by capping 2/3 of the slats and good variable speed pit fans
(4)Wanted a pleasant atmosphere to work in, accomplished that by putting in windows and painting.
(5)Wanted easy clean out, accomplished that by making skid loader access for dry straw manure
(6)Wanted a treatment area for sick or injured pigs, accomplished that by special small pen designed for that.

Advantages and Disadvantage of the Project: The main advantage of a project of this sort is that it takes discipline to examine closely how a person can most efficiently change their operation to make it more competitive.  The disadvantage of this type of a project is that it is very time consuming and remodeling costs tend to exceed projections.

What to Share with Other Farmers: I would basically share the importance of setting goals and testing of those goals as outlined in this report.

I did a PowerPoint presentation for Niman Ranch Producers in Redwood Falls, MN in March.  I will do a webinar with Wayne Martin in early May.  I have done a number of individual site visits regarding the project and plan to do a few more this summer if the PEDV virus gets taken care of. 

A presentation was given at the 2015 NCR-SARE Farmers Forum, held in conjunction with the Northern Plains Sustainable Ag Society (NPSAS) Conference. A recording of this is available through NCR-SARE's YouTube channel at:



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Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.