05/11/06 — Scientists say new hog houses are more environmentally friendly

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Scientists say new hog houses are more environmentally friendly

By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on May 11, 2006 1:49 PM

An innovative structure for housing hogs could help reduce the odor and water contamination that has come with the growth of corporate-style swine operations in eastern North Carolina, researchers say.

About 200 farmers, researchers, environmentalists and local and state officials attended the dedication of a hooped hog house operation Tuesday at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems at the Cherry Research Farm west of Goldsboro.

The hooped barns on display are just one of the alternatives scientists at North Carolina State University are considering as potential feasible answers to the problems.

State officials have vowed to come up with a way to make the profitable hog industry more environmentally friendly, but a method that doesn't create unreasonable costs for farmers has yet to be identified.

"It offers farmers an alternative production system," said Morgan Morrow, a professor of animal science at N.C. State and the coordinator of the swine production unit at the center. "It has marketing opportunities for farmers to sell to consumers who would prefer to buy other than commodity pork.

"With these systems, people have a choice," Morrow said.

The barns are much like greenhouses, with a polyvinyl opaque covering over large hoops supported by treated posts and board walls.

The floors of the barns are knee-deep in bedding material, such as straw, corn stalks or hay, that helps keep odor to a minimum and is designed to take advantage of the animals' natural rooting habits and inclination to separate its sleeping, feeding and waste disposal areas.

Most commercial hog farms today have concrete floors that are periodically washed out to keep them clean and prevent disease.

An advantage of the hoop houses is that they are cheap to build, researchers say. And the cost of production per hog is lower.

Another advantage is that the manure is more naturally dispersed when the house is cleaned, creating less disruption to the environment. The bedding helps turn the waste material into compost faster, and it has less effect on water quality.

Disadvantages are that the system requires more labor to handle the bedding and that large quantities of bedding material is needed year-round. Another is poor feed efficiency in extreme temperatures, according to early test results.

Officials said the system still needs more testing to see how durable and how reliable it would be in the long run, but that it is promising.