Sustainable Straw Based Animal Welfare Friendly Growing Unit for Hogs
I started in the summer of 2012 by completely removing from the two rooms in my 24 by 64 foot hog confinement building all the gating, feeders, and waterers from the building. I cleaned and washed out the building. I then consulted with John Schmidt on designing a better natural lighting system for the building that would be for the benefit of both the operator and the pigs. I wanted to take out the dungeon effect of the building. I then constructed an 8-foot door opening on the east end of the building as well as on the middle divider wall of the two rooms in the building.
The next phase of the work I did in the fall which was constructing an outside access pad to the building that would serve as a ramp to enter the building. I then worked with Wayne Martin of the Alternative Livestock Systems at the University of Minnesota to check out who at the University of Minnesota might be a good resource to help figure out how to effectively cap partially an existing pit. Wayne helped set up a time for me to visit over the phone with Larry Jacobson of the University of Minnesota Engineering Department regarding seeking technical advice. Following that advice and also doing an in-person meeting with Wayne and Larry we devised a plan to cap part of the existing slats.
In mid fall I then worked with both Myron Fixen and Dennis Pohlen in designing the cement floor remodeling and capping some of the existing pit incorporating the recommendation from Larry Jacobson. The 24 by 64 foot building is divided into two rooms with the west room having the cement pit being in the middle of the room and the east room having the pit on the north half of the room. For the east room we were able to do a 2 foot cap of cement over the portion of the slats that we wanted to cover. In the west room we capped 1/2 of the pit in the middle with 5 feet of cement as well as placing rebar in that cement cap 6 inches apart. This room the cement had to be thicker because we would be driving a skid steer over the top.
During the winter months of November, December, January, and February, I installed gating and waterers in half of the barn as well as redoing the heating and ventilation system. I also reinsulated the ceiling. I installed a hybrid of a feed auger system that came from both used and new equipment. Some of the old equipment came from a neighbor.
On April 20th we moved in 50 feeder pigs into the east room. Initially things look good so far. Half of the room we use bedding in and the other half of the room is where feeders are and waterers are. We have 8 foot by 8 foot slatted areas where the waterers are in which pigs do most of their dunging in and then on each end of the room we have a 2 foot by 8 foot area where pigs can also dung in. By covering 3/4s of the existing slats and through installing new pit fans and a variable speed regulator, that combination makes the east room pretty much odor free in my opinion.
To date I am able to report that the resources from this grant have helped me to plan, develop, and design a system that initially looks very animal welfare friendly, operator friendly, and environmentally friendly in terms of odor and in terms of manure storage and handling. The lighting system and openness that the windows bring to the building in terms of this remodel are significant.
WORK PLAN FOR 2013
This spring and this summer we plan to complete the gating and watering system for the west room of the 24 foot by 64 foot building. We will measure pig performance by looking at feed intake, pig mortality, air quality, living environment for the pigs and work environment for the farm operator as well as looking at labor requirements.
So far my sharing of this project has been in one-on-one conversation with some other hog producers. Two of those producers are from Niman Ranch. I plan to share the work of where I am at with this project with a new beginning Niman Ranch Hog Producer who will get started in hogs after graduation from Agriculture School this spring.
In terms of the coming year, I plan to present to our local group of Niman Ranch producers information about my project.