Dec. 3, 1999 LUBBOCK ¡V Researchers in Texas Tech University¡¦s College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources are developing a way to eliminate the stink surrounding the hog industry. Literally.
Texas Tech animal science department researchers are raising pigs in what the university calls its ¡§Sustainable Pork„·¡¨ production system. The animals are reared under conditions that are more friendly to the environment, the community, the workers and the animals. The system also should allow small and mid-size ¡V and especially young ¡V pork producers to participate more successfully in the industry.
The project brings together production technology, environmental stewardship and training to alleviate some of the problems and perceived image problems faced by the pork industry. According to John McGlone, Ph.D., professor and director of Texas Tech¡¦s Pork Industry Institute, the major complaint that conventional hog farms face is that the farms smell bad. ¡§Secondly, conventional pig farms pollute rivers, streams and lakes,¡¨ McGlone said. ¡§The pigs also are at a health risk and require more antibiotics.¡¨ Additionally, public perception of conventional pig farms is that the animals¡¦ welfare is not considered important.
Texas Tech researchers have found solutions in raising pigs outdoors. Unlike conventional American pig farms, which are usually comprised of a system of large indoor buildings that house the animals, waste lagoons, poor air quality and polluting runoff, the Sustainable Pork„· system works as an environmentally friendly cyclical system.
¡§The objective of the outdoor unit is to produce a high number of pigs per sow per year at a low cost. A properly run outdoor unit has the advantage of being environmentally friendly because it will have animal populations that are low enough to allow growth of native or planted vegetation. When vegetation can grow during operations, the site will not have an offensive odor or a runoff of manure.¡¨
¡§The future growth of the industry will be in a manner that is friendly to the environment ¡V both air and water, the animals and the local communities,¡¨ McGlone said.
The acreage is divided into separate sections, called ¡§radials.¡¨ The radial design makes sow movement and farm worker efforts more efficient. There are separate radials for breeding, gestation, farrowing (birthing) and new plant growth. Each radial contains an arc-shaped hut in which the pigs sleep and find shelter from inclement weather. Because the pigs are moved from radial to radial, the waste products are spread around the land naturally. The nutrients then return to the soil, and the natural grass renews itself, creating more forage for the next cycle.
The comparative simplicity and cost of the initial set up for Sustainable Pork„· production should allow more small, mid-size and younger producers to enter into the Sustainable Pork„· production method as an alternative to traditional methods. According to McGlone, the initial cost of getting into the outdoor production business is one-third that of starting a conventional indoor hog farm.
¡§After the initial outlay for getting started, the costs are pretty much the same as indoor production,¡¨ McGlone said. ¡§Another difference, however, is that in sustainable production, the end product, pork meat, should bring a higher price.¡¨ With less initial cost and more substantial returns, Sustainable Pork„· production may look more appealing to those small and mid-size producers, he said.
Another goal of the Sustainable Pork„· production project is to develop a unique product label for the United States, European and Asian markets that capitalizes on the natural and animal welfare-friendly aspects of the pork products and to determine price sensitivities to this new major market segment.
¡§With the proper topography and climate, which we have here on the South Plains, farmers can realize the ability to develop a major pork market niche that can make them competitive in both the national and international pork markets,¡¨ said McGlone.
¡§Historically, consumers¡¦ desires have been fairly simple ¡V that is to have cheap but wholesome food,¡¨ McGlone continued. ¡§However, now a large segment of consumers are adding, even demanding, new requirements of the food and meat they buy.¡¨
McGlone said that in taste tests of the Sustainable Pork„· product, researchers found that consumers determined that the meat was more tender, juicy and flavorful than its conventionally produced counterpart. Meanwhile, in-supermarket surveys substantiate the theory that people would be willing to pay more for pork raised with some assurances as to its history. Specifically consumers consider animal welfare, community welfare and environmental welfare in their buying decisions.
¡§We will work to develop a major market segment in the United States and overseas to channel these value-added products into higher-priced markets,¡¨ McGlone said.
John McGlone, Ph.D., director, Pork Industry Institute, Texas Tech University, (806) 742-2826 or access the institute¡¦s website at http://www.pii.ttu.edu
Bill Tynan, research associate, Pork Industry Institute, Texas Tech University, (806) 742-2826
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