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New Teaching, Research Barns Proposed

This time next year, South Dakota State University (SDSU) officials hope construction of new swine teaching and research facilities is well underway on the north side of the school’s Brookings campus.

Admittedly, it’s an ambitious endeavor in these times of budget constraints, but one that’s sorely needed for the swine industry, according to Bob Thaler, SDSU swine Extension specialist.

The state has no funds to contribute; funding would be entirely comprised of gifts, he points out. Allied industry is expected to play a big role, and the South Dakota Pork Producers Council has chipped in $150,000, which is a very significant part of their annual budget.

The newest swine facility on the SDSU campus is a gestation/farrowing/nursery barn built in 1991. That will stay. Scheduled for demolition is a 1971 grow-finish barn, a 1950s farrowing barn and a 1930s shed used for boar housing.

“We want to be the place to go to when people want to pursue a career in swine production, that we are the university-of-choice to train them. It is difficult to train them in 20-year-old facilities and impossible in 40-year-old facilities,” Thaler stresses.

The goal is to make SDSU the place “that trains the next generation of swine producers and industry support people, and we want to have the state-of-the-art facilities to do so,” he continues.

Building Features

Included in plans for the SDSU Swine Enhancement Unit is a teaching-research facility that will include observation windows and walkways and video cameras for public education and outreach efforts. “Not only will these allow us to enhance our teaching efforts, but we want to ‘de-mystify’ pork production for the general public. We’ll have the ability for K-12 students and the general public to follow an individual pig from birth through maturity via the Internet and their home computer. This will allow people to see how well pigs are actually cared for in a modern swine production system,” Thaler says. “Also, we want to welcome policy makers and concerned citizens to walk through the actual facilities to help them understand what a positive thing a swine unit can be for the local community.”

The existing sow barn will be remodeled into two nurseries and renovated to match the new sow building (see sketch), says Dick Nicolai, SDSU agricultural engineer. The classroom will hold 50 people. It will be used for both undergraduate education and Extension programs.

Other features of the sow unit include boar housing and semen collection center, sow metabolism crates, individual housing for swine physiology, a surgical suite, and a laboratory and space for five groups of 24 sows. One large gestation pen will have electronic feeding capabilities.

The second building project will encompass three, adjoining 200-head, wean-to-finish barns. The complex will include 50 pens with four pigs per pen, dedicated scale in each barn and a central working area. This unit will also have a public observation area (see sketch).

Nicolai says the complex will feature a different ventilation system for each of the three barns – tunnel-ventilated, reduced- emissions, and zero-emissions barns.

The different ventilation systems will be assessed for their ability to further improve the efficiency of pig performance and document energy requirements, mirroring concerns in the swine industry.

First-of-its-Kind Facility

The zero-emissions barn in the wean-to-finish facility will be the first of its kind in the world, Nicolai says. Built around the concept of air recirculation, hog barn air will be cleaned up and reused rather than simply being exhausted and throwing away the body heat of the pigs in the barn. The by-product of that process is zero emissions.

Air will be cleaned of ammonia through a bio-trickling filter. Hydrogen sulfide and the volatile organic compounds will be removed with a biofilter. Carbon dioxide will be exhausted and replaced with fresh air.

Then the air will be cooled and condensed to wring the moisture out, reheated and reused. Dust particulates will also be removed during the process.

“Basically you suck all of the air out of the barn, it goes into this box on the end of the barn, so instead of being exhausted outside, the air is exhausted into this box, gets processed and is allowed to come back in,” he says. Service and maintenance of the cleansing unit can be done outside the barn, thus preserving biosecurity.

By not exhausting air, you don’t have to worry about exhausting pathogens to your neighbors’ barns, mainly porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS), but also Mycoplasma pneumonia and swine influenza virus, adds SDSU agricultural engineer Steve Pohl.

Farms of the Future

The chief idea behind the new swine research complex is to develop the technology to achieve optimum pig performance through nutrition, genetics and environment that can be transferred to the hog farms of the future. “If we can raise pigs under ideal conditions, we know we can achieve performance of about 2.2 lb. of feed per pound of gain, whereas, the industry is at about a 2.7 or 2.8-to-1 ratio. With today’s feed prices, we have to start working on getting better efficiency out of that conversion, and that will be the whole goal of this system,” Nicolai says.

He admits these types of advanced hog facilities will probably cost twice as much to build, but vastly improved performance should provide a reasonable payback period.

Proactive Approach

Most university research across the United States has been reactive, Nicolai charges. “In other words, somebody has come up with a problem, the industry has moved ahead to solve it, and we in research have been trying to demonstrate that the solution is feasible and explainable, but after the fact. We have got to move away from that approach. The universities must take a lead in developing ideas if they want to survive and establish themselves, and that is what we are trying to do here,” he says.

Currently, there are only eight land grant universities conducting production-based swine research in the United States, and SDSU feels it is important to maintain a strong swine production-based focus, Thaler emphasizes.

Of the 360-plus undergraduate students in the Department of Animal & Range Sciences at SDSU, 30% come from Minnesota and 15-20% hail from Iowa, and many have a strong background and interest in the swine industry. Thaler hopes there is also outstate financial support for the new center.


The intent is to have enough funds raised by October to start at least one of the phases of construction by next spring. That would follow approval for the plan by the university’s board of regents and the state legislature, Thaler explains.

To learn more about the objectives of the project and to inquire about donations, contact Thaler at Robert.Thaler@SDSTATE.EDU or call (605) 688-5435.