Sustainable Straw Based Animal Welfare Friendly Growing Unit for Hogs

Project Overview

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

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Animals: swine


  • Animal Production: housing
  • Sustainable Communities: sustainability measures

    Proposal summary:



    My farming operation consists of a 240 acre crop and livestock farm that includes Hogs (Farrow to Finish) and Cattle (Beef Cow and Calves). I raise corn, beans, alfalfa, grass hay, pasture, oats, wheat, and also CRP. We use rotational grazing in our pastures.



    In 2001 I requested a SARE Grant for the conversion of an existing pole barn to a deep bedded sow and piglet nursery. See: Sustainable Straw-Based Farrowing System Modified after the Swedish Model, Project Number – FNC01-377. The goal I had for this project was to demonstrate that an existing pole barn structure could be successfully remodeled for a deep sow/piglet nursery that was animal friendly, humane, easy to clean and put bedding down in, and an environment in which the pigs were healthy.


    The planning and conducting the research and education component of this project is what made it successful. In this project I started by consulting with Marlene and Diane Halverson of the Animal Welfare Institute. I then looked at material from Iowa State University to glean what had been done there. I then applied this info to my remodeling project. Before starting the project I got Marlene and Diane Halverson together with my local contractor who did the design plan with their input before we started the construction remodel. All this made sure we were looking at proper feeder placement, raised platform for feeder (essential in deep straw facilities), square feet needed for sows and piglets, ventilation needs, insulation material, water placement, heater placement, and door and window access. We got a system that works, that doesn’t smell like a confinement barn and yet doesn’t require a daily scraping of the manure by hand. We built this system to work better with our family, so that my two sons, Scot and Steven, didn’t have to clean manure every day, didn’t smell like (choose your word) and fit their activity schedules like sports and band.


    The results of this system after running it for the 1st couple of pig groups was that our sows and piglets were very comfortable, there was low piglet mortality, we didn’t have to use antibiotics, and the building was easy to clean with a skid steer. This building still works well.


    This grant allowed me to make my farming operation more sustainable and to start being able again to compete in hog production.



    Converting a nursery/growing confinement building with pit to a deep-bedded growing unit that meets Niman Ranch standards for improved animal welfare while utilizing existing resources and creating a system that is good for the environment.


    The objective of this grant is to demonstrate that a 24X64 foot confinement building that has a partial pit can be successfully converted to an animal-welfare-friendly straw system that can house pigs in a healthy environment in their initial growing phase. Furthermore, I will report after the 1st year on the economics including pig performance, overall pig health, pig mortality and growth and feed efficiency. I will also do air quality measuring with a multi-gas detector that measures hydrogen sulfide and ammonia.


    I have been selling hogs to Niman Ranch since 2002. I currently assist Niman Ranch in lining up trucking for Niman Ranch Hog Producers in my region. Niman Ranch needs more hog producers to meet their growing demand. Our region needs more producers raising hogs for Niman Ranch so we can get competitive shipping arrangements for the producers who are part of our shipping group. There are many confinement buildings that have hog pits under them that could be converted to meet Niman Ranch standards and be animal-welfare friendly in our region. I would hope that by demonstrating that I have successfully converted this building on my farm that has a pit, that other producers in my shipping region might consider the possibility also. I will also show how the existing pit under the building can be successfully capped and still be used for water spillage and some manure intake in a way that is controlled that causes less odor than the former system caused. I will do a cost/benefit analysis of the options that I review in making the final decision on the type of remodeling that I finally choose in this project. I want to end up with a multifunctional building that is easy to clean, pleasant to work in, and is not labor intensive.


    In 1998 when hog price fell to $ 9.00 a hundred weight, worse than the depression of the 1930’s that my uncle experienced when he was farming, it was a shell shock to me, my wife, and my family. The ability for us to compete as independent hogs farmers in the conventional market was gone, but the new opportunity that appeared for us was Niman Ranch. In about 2000 I successfully remodeled my farrowing barn that had farrowing crates over a gutter to a deep-straw farrowing building utilizing the outside pits for water seepage. In 2002 I received a grant from SARE to remodel an existing pole barn to a “Deep Bedded Sow and Piglet Nursery”. In 2005, I successfully remodeled a small nursery to a deep-bedded-straw sow and piglet nursery. With this proposal I hope to be able to close the loop by converting all my hog buildings on this farm to raising hogs that are sustainable and animal welfare friendly. When this particular building was built on my farm it was the “Cadillac” building on my farm. My hope is that it could be used in the future for the best type of hog raising, now that Niman Ranch has provided producers like myself a market. It would be the hope of my wife Candy and myself that someday, we can make this farming operation facilities building and land available to a family member or a beginning farmer who would effectively be able to make a living off of this farm while maintaining a completely sustainable livestock operation.


    Resources from the grant would be used to:

    (1)   Plan, and to develop, and design the kind of renovation to the 24X64

    Confinement building that would be cost effective in making the building suitable as a straw based animal welfare friendly growing unit for swine.

    (2)   Consult with a couple of local contractors to help with the planning.

    (3)   Cover the time required to design gates in the system and the flooring systems in the remodel.

    (4)   Design adequate natural lighting (lift the dungeon affects) to the existing building as well as the benefit of heat from the sun.

    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.