Integrated Crop and Sylvan Systems with Swine: A State and National Initiative

2001 Annual Report for LS99-106

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1999: $156,262.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2002
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $15,000.00
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Charles Talbott
NCA&T University

Integrated Crop and Sylvan Systems with Swine: A State and National Initiative


Gestating sows finished their second rotation on dirt lots with or without leaf mulch. Soil parameters and crop yields were measured; soil nutrient levels were too high to warrant putting sows back into plots. Annual rye grass was subsequently planted and soil nutrient levels will be assessed this spring. Littermates from three breeds of sows terminally crossed to Duroc boars were randomly assigned across three rearing environments (confinement, dry lot and pasture) to compare production aspects and meat quality in alternative rearing systems. Small scale producers from NC visited Niman Ranch small scale producers from Iowa.

Objectives/Performance Targets

1. Examine the potential for developing organic vegetable plots in rotation with swine raised on dry lots in order to: a) monitor retention, accumulation and/or availability of N, P, K, Zn and Cu from swine waste mixed with leaf mulch vs. conventional dry lot, and b) evaluate potential transfer of zoanotic diseases from swine waste with leaf mulch.

2. To determine if market hogs raised in alternative rearing systems (pasture and dry-lot) may improve pork quality (pH, % drip loss, color score and intra-muscular fat) and flavor (sensory panel) over conventionally (confinement) raised hogs (original objective changed and approved by Dr. J. Jordan).

3. Examine two stocking rates of gestating sows (6/A and 18/A) in a forest environment to evaluate: a) reproductive performance of sows bred and gestating in a sylvan environment with those raised in conventional dry lots, b) rooting behavior and manure deposition of swine on forest vegetation for enhancing growth in an existing stand or in preparation of a more marketable future stand, and c) effects of swine on survival, composition and condition of under-story and canopy vegetation.

4. Explore avenues to increase profitability by promoting the unique characteristics of the “pasture raised” product as well as the small farmer production system.


Objective 1:
Raising hogs in dry lots containing leaves or no leaves (two six-month rotations) resulted in an increase in NH4-N, NO3, PO4 and total-P concentrations over time. Significant decrease in concentrations of NH4, NO3, PO4, total-C, total-N, and total-P were found with the soil depth. After corn was planted, a subsequent decrease in inorganic N and P concentration was found in plots having leaves. Inorganic N and P concentrations were decreased with the depth. Significant differences were not observed among treatments for corn yields and N uptake. This trend was due to the application of fertilizers in no pig plots. Also, these results suggest that pig plots have contributed as much as fertilized plots with and without leaves. The results indicate that such integrated animal-crop systems can help reduce the nutrient levels in soil and will bring an eco-friendly environment. Surface samples (upper 7.5 cm) were collected on October 2001 and measurements included the following parameters: active and total bacteria, active and total fungi, nematode types/numbers, and protozoa types/numbers. In general, the addition of leaf mulch increased soil total bacteria and total fungi. Active bacteria was unaffected in the pig plots but the presence of active fungi was reduced. Total nematode numbers were unaffected by the leaf or pig effect while protozoa types increased in number in pig plots.

Objective 2:
Ninety hogs (250lbs) were marketed in September and an assessment of meat quality was made to determine possible differences due to environment raised (confinement, dry-lot or pasture) or breed group (Tamworth x Duroc, Landrace x Tamworth x Duroc or Hampshire x Landrace x Duroc). Meat quality differences were observed for rearing environments (Minolta scores: Light and Red fraction, and % drip loss). There were no differences in meat quality across breeds or rearing environment for intra muscular fat scoring or visual appraisal of color. A second study will examine possible taste differences in flavor due to environment raised and diet (pasture raised hogs having access to various vegetative stages of barley).

Objective 3:
Gestating sows completed their second rotations this year in sylvan or dry lot environments. Vegetative assessment and sow impact on the environment will be examined this spring after foliage emerges. Preliminary assessment indicates that hard woods (oaks) are not effected (girdling, rooting, etc) by sow stocking rates; softer woods (cedars/junipers, elms) may be reduced in number by sow “marking” behavior.

Objective 4:
Each year, The Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) holds a Sustainable Ag. Conference that typically has over 500 in attendance. For the past three years, our SARE Grant has provided funding to highlight key (small-scale) producers from around the country. In 1999, Greg and Leigh Gunthorpe (“Pastured Pigs”/Farm to Market Business in IN and project collaborators) spoke to producers at the Annual Conference of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) about selling value added “family farm” pork. Unlike the Gunthorpes, most farmers prefer raising livestock and growing crops to sitting in markets and selling to a scrutinizing public. For the 2000 conference, Mr. Paul Willis (Small-scale Hog Producer and President of the Niman Ranch Pork Company) spoke to the attendees at the CFSA conference (as well as to area farmer groups) about raising upscale pork for the Niman Ranch Inc. The Commissioner of Agriculture for NC, Meg Scott Phipps, has endorsed the efforts of Mr. Willis and the potential marketing opportunities for NC small-scale producers (letter to C. Talbott, 3/25/2001). Last year Dr. John McGlone (Texas Tech Univ. at Lubbock, TX) spoke on a “New Vision for Animal Systems” and presented his work from the Sustainable Pork Institute. Dr. McGlone and his Pork Institute Program are recognized nationally and internationally for work documenting alternative and sustainable hog systems.

Funded by our current SARE project, NC small scale producers and group leaders visited eight farms in the Mid-West this October and talked with producer/members of the Niman Ranch Pork Co. The group was made up of: three producers, one former producer, one extension agent (Jeff Copeland of Perquimans Co.), one group leader (Mr. Johnnie Jones of the NC Coalition of Small Farms) and the project coordinator (C. Talbott). The group was able to gain insight into building designs, infrastructure and methods used for raising hogs for up-scale markets. Talbott and the Niman Ranch Farmer Coordinator are currently putting together a pictorial documentation of the trip that will enable the NC producers, Extension Agents and Group Leaders to show alternative hog systems to other potential producers. I have discussed the idea of putting this “Alternative Pig Primer” on the SARE website with Dr. Andy Clark.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

A&T received a tobacco settlement grant in November ’01 (Golden LEAF Foundation) to assist tobacco farmers in developing alternative markets to tobacco. Thirty project farmers (ten each year) will receive 12 gilts and 2 boars (“Pass on Gifts” from Heifer Project International) in years ’02, and ’03 and ’04. Each farmer is expected to sell 200+ market animals per year to The Niman Ranch Pork Co.(through contract) or through their own marketing network. By the end of year three of the project, (active and former tobacco) producers will market 6000+ hogs/year and will have offset some of their lost farm revenue due to shrinking tobacco quotas. This may be the start of a sustainable, small-scale (farmer owned) pork industry in NC.

The GoldenLEAF grant provides funds to develop farmer participatory research (in collaboration with NC A&T SU and The Center for Environmental Farming Systems, CEFS) in producing integrated crop/animal systems for utilizing swine waste to enhance farm (soil) productivity and preserve water quality. Information we have acquired from this grant will give us various models to present to participating farmers.

Because of the funding provided by USDA/SARE and Evans Allen Grants, as well as the timing of contemporary issues facing the NC confinement swine industry (animal welfare and environmental issues) the door to alternative hog systems has been opened. Small scale producers are showing genuine interest in our program (The Small Scale Hog Producer Project). In the last two months, we have had four meetings which over 60 small scale producers attended. We have always believed in our mission; we are only now beginning to believe that we can do it. Thank you.


G. Gunthorp

Gunthorp’s Pastur-ized Pork and Poultry
LaGrange, IN
A. Coffey

Tony Kleese

Executive Director
Carolina Farm Stewardship Association
P O Box 448
Pittsboro, NC 27312
Reddy G.B

NCA&T University
M.R. McKinnie

NC A&T State University
J. Green

C. Raczkowski

NC A&T State University
J. Henson-Upshaw

NC A&T State University