A UNIVERSITY of Missouri Extension assistant professor of agricultural systems management is researching ways to reduce odors from hog operations.
Through funding from the university's College of Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources, Teng Lim is working with biofilters to reduce the odor, dust and gas emissions from typical swine operations.
Lim has evaluated small-scale biofilters at commercial hog farms and concluded that these biofilters could be scaled up to reduce emissions from larger hog operations.
"We are trying to evaluate different potential media to improve the biofilters," Lim explained.
He is looking at materials within the biofilters at the University of Missouri Swine Research Center in Columbia, Mo. Wood chips are the main type of media used in the filters, but Lim has been using a puffed plastic material.
The biofilters at the university's hog facility have windows to observe the materials inside and are raised off the ground to keep them away from rodents. The rooms in the research barn all have individual ventilation control systems and can be monitored over the internet. The system uploads all of the data to a server and sends a daily email with data from the previous 24 hours.
Lim said the data let the researchers evaluate whether the pigs are comfortable and monitor temperature fluctuation, humidity and barometric pressure to make sure the whole system is working.
When producers look to expand their operations or build a new barn, neighbors often have concerns about the odors. Lim said biofiltration is one of the least expensive ways to reduce odors and dust and should be part of farmers' best management practices.
"It also shows they are concerned with taking care of the environment and their neighbors and community as well," Lim added.
University of Missouri extension structural engineers, air quality engineers, soil scientists and other specialists are working as a team to evaluate farms and offer recommendations on the best ways to mitigate odor and dust.
Lim is also conducting research on anaerobic digesters, which can help with managing waste and controlling odor while also providing a source of energy.
Manure from the facility goes through a 21-day biochemical process that produces methane gas, which can be used to fuel generators and boilers, said Brandon Harvey, a graduate assistant working with Lim.
Harvey explained that a hog farm could meet its energy needs with an anaerobic digester and even earn revenue selling excess energy to the power grid.
For odor mitigation alone, however, a digester is a much more expensive proposition than biofilters, he said.
"Every farm is different, so we're trying to provide different options — viable options, sustainable options — for people to use," Lim said. "As hog operations expand, it is critical that they be responsible for the environment and be responsible to their community and neighbors. We want to make sure they have best management practices to adopt that improve their operations and minimize conflicts in their community."
The developer of a tool that improves handling of baby pigs at processing and improves the health and well-being of farm workers has been awarded the 2014 F.X. Aherne Prize for Innovative Pork Production.
Helmut Janz, a barn manager for Maple Leaf in Zhoda, Man., received the award at the Banff Pork Seminar for his invention called the "piglet processing arm."
"Innovation is the lifeblood of any industry, and the (Aherne prize) is an opportunity to recognize those individuals who have developed either original solutions to pork production challenges or creative uses of known technology," said Dr. Michael Dyck of the University of Alberta, chair of the F.X. Aherne prize committee.
The award is named after the late Dr. Frank Aherne, a professor of swine nutrition and production at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alb., who was a major force behind science-based progress in the western Canadian pork industry.
As a hog barn manager, Janz recognized the need for a better way to process baby piglets when he saw employees suffer repetitive stress injuries as a result of performing piglet processing tasks.
His piglet processing arm gently and safely holds the animal and allows it to be pivoted and rotated during the handling process. This makes piglet processing a safer task by eliminating the potential for repetitive stress and strain injuries on the employees.
The beauty of the design lies in its simplicity. It is constructed out of six simple, standardized, easy-to-source, low-cost parts.
A universal joint similar to what is used on power take-off shafts on tractors serves as the basis for the device. A holding plate for the piglets is attached to that and mounted on the processing cart. Various trial designs led to improvements in the final product. Foam inserts were added to cradle the piglet, and a Velcro strap was added to easily hold the piglet in place.
The processing arm is designed to attach to a processing cart. It can be adjusted for the height of an employee and can be used easily by both right- and left-handed people.
With this new tool, processing tasks — injections, tattooing, castrating, tail docking and oral drenching — can now all be done with the piglet in the cradle by simply swiveling the arm to the correct position. Since the piglet can be processed without being held and squeezed by staff, there is less stress on the animal and far less repetitive stress on the staff.
The arm is now used by 40 people in 20 barns across the Maple Leaf system. This means the processing arm will be used on approximately 1.5 million piglets annually.
In addition, Maple Leaf is now manufacturing new custom-designed carts for its barns with two arms. Use of the carts will be a mandatory part of operating procedures because they are seen as an important opportunity to improve injury prevention.
About 10-20% of piglets do not survive to weaning, and 5-10% are stillborn. Unlocking the effects of myelin production — an important aspect of brain development — in piglets may be one of the keys to their survival.
Researchers with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) are investigating myelin production, called "myelination," which is essential for proper functioning of the nervous system and affects coordination and reflex speed.
A team led by Jeffrey Vallet, a physiologist and research leader of the reproduction research unit at the ARS Roman L. Hruska U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in Clay Center, Neb., is examining myelination's role in helping newborn piglets move quickly and easily to avoid being accidentally crushed by their mother — a primary cause of piglet preweaning mortality.
The researchers compared myelin content from the cerebellum, brain stem and spinal cord — which are involved in coordination and reflexes — between the largest and smallest pig fetuses during a sow's late pregnancy. They found no differences in spinal cord myelination, which develops first, between the two groups. However, significantly less myelin was found in the brain stem and cerebellum of smaller pig fetuses.
In another study, Vallet and his colleagues investigated the effects of the dietary supplement creatine, which plays a role in energy metabolism. They looked at energy metabolism and myelination in piglets.
Feeding creatine to pregnant sows did not affect the birth process — the amount of time between piglets' births, number of stillbirths and preweaning mortality. However, the number of low-birth weight piglets crushed by their mothers was reduced when those sows received creatine.
Overall, these studies suggest that reduced myelin may contribute to poor survival of low-birth weight piglets and that improved myelination may help the piglet's ability to avoid the sow when necessary, according to Vallet.