Researchers from the University of Minnesota visited Rodale Institute's pastured hog operation. The group included Dr. Yuzhi Li, Associate Professor-Swine Behavior/Alternative Production; Dr. Lee Johnston, Professor of Swine Nutrition and Management-Director of Operations; Wayne Martin, Assistant Extension Professor-Alternative Livestock Systems; Dr. Brad Heins, Associate Professor-Organic Dairy Production; Dr. Bill Lazarus, Professor of Agricultural Economics; and Bill’s wife Sheryl. The visiting group was met by Rodale Institute’s Animal Operations team, consisting of Ross Duffield, Farm Manager; Shelby Dukes, Animal Husbandry Coordinator; Rick Carr, Compost Production Specialist; Dr. Drew Smith, Director of the Vegetable Systems Trial-Interim Research Director; and Dr. Alex Hernandez from the Department of Biology, Kutztown University. The goal of the visit was 1. To learn (and critique) the set up and operation of Rodale Institute’s swine facilities, 2. To share experiences on organic pastured pork production, and 3. To explore possibilities for potential collaborations between the two institutions.
The day began with brief introductions and an overview of Rodale Institute followed by a tour of the hog facility. The group walked through the facility with Ross and Shelby explaining the intricacies of the design, sharing some of the pros and cons. When designing the facility, the attempt was to capture some of the best components of modern day dairy and swine operations in order to reduce labor inputs while maintaining the highest standards in animal welfare. Automatic feeders and freeze-proof waterers, high ceiling with adjustable side curtains to manipulate air flow, solid concrete floors, movable gates, guillotine doors for outdoor access and a well-managed pasture for rotational foraging are several highlights the facility has to offer. However, because it is a centralized feeding operation one of the downsides of the facility is the prevalence of intestinal parasites compared movable operations and facilities with slated floors to avoid contaminated manure. Most swine operations administer dewormers to control parasites but there are no consistently effective and reliable dewormers for organic production and both teams agreed that there is a void in research on organic parasite management.
From left to right: Shelby Dukes, Lee Johnston, Sheryl Lazarus, Wayne Martin, Bill Lazarus, Bonnie Duffield, Ross Duffield, Rick Carr, Brad Heins, and Yuzhi Li. Photo courtesy of Yuzhi Li.
The day concluded on a very positive note. They had accomplished their goals and increased their capacity for future collaborations. Research on swine parasite management for organic agriculture will become one of the focuses in the coming future. Other areas of research interest include improving swine manure handling and processing, maximizing the nutrient contribution of pastures for pork production, and an economic analysis of pastured pork production. Rodale Institute was very grateful to have such esteemed guests that could share their experiences and insights.