- Animals: swine
- Animal Production: housing, manure management
- Education and Training: extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
- Farm Business Management: feasibility study
- Production Systems: holistic management, integrated crop and livestock systems
The front range of the Colorado Rockies presents the vegetable farmer with significant production challenges. Much of the area experiences a short growing season - generally shorter than 120 days - resulting from elevations ranging between 6,000 and 9,000 feet.
Added to this are weather-related challenges, including wide temperature swings, extremely low humidity, hailstorms, and desiccating winds. Amid these challenges, outdoor cultivation of staple crops like tomatoes is essentially impossible, and many other crops are at risk.
Hoophouse cultivation is a potential solution to many of these challenges, protecting crops from the wind and hail, and somewhat moderating temperature swings. However, without supplemental heat, season extension is minimal, except possibly for cold-tolerant
crops. With the continually rising prices of fossil fuels, traditional propane or oil heat for greenhouses can be so costly as to significantly reduce or totally eliminate profits, since the vegetables grown locally in greenhouses must be price competitive with vegetables trucked in from warmer zones.
Livestock animals produce heat in two primary ways: body heat, and heat resulting from composting of manure and urine. This project confirmed that livestock inside a hoophouse has a positive impact on temperature. Harnessing this heat by raising animals inside a hoophouse may provide enough heat to raise the temperature inside the
hoophouse to a level sufficient to sustain production through the winter.
While the increased temperature may not be sufficient to protect warm weather crops, selection of winter-hardy crops and further protecting them by row covers inside the hoophouse may enable winter production without added heat.
The hypothesis of this project is that crops can be raised and harvested through the winter months in the front range of Colorado in hoophouse structures without added artificial heat. Heat energy produced by livestock as body heat and through composting manure
will keep the temperature at crop level in an unheated hoop structure at a temperature able to sustain cold weather greenhouse crops. To test this hypothesis, the project will undertake the following activities:
1. Explore the microclimate impact of raising hogs inside a hoophouse, comparing the temperature and humidity through the winter months inside two identical hoophouses, one with animals and one without.
2. Compare performance of hogs raised inside a hoophouse vs hogs raised in the farm's conventional manner, outside in dirt lots.
3. Design and construct a small-farm sized in-vessel composter, to reduce the animal waste to compost for vegetable production inside the hoophouses.
4. Document the project's results by developing a website, and by developing a seminar to offer to the Colorado State University Extension Service.