*Krissa Welshans holds a bachelor's degree in animal science from Michigan State University and a master's degree in public policy from New England College. Welshans has long been involved in agriculture and has worked with numerous agricultural groups, including the Animal Agriculture Alliance.
AS the sow housing conversion debate continues, Canada's Prairie Swine Centre, a nonprofit research corporation affiliated with the University of Saskatchewan, has launched a national sow housing conversion project to help producers find the most cost-effective and beneficial housing for their sows by utilizing a model produced at the University of Manitoba.
In order to develop the best-cost barn conversion plan, the model uses the physical attributes of the current barn along with the producer's plans for the future.
Two pilot barns that were chosen out of a number of applicants from Saskatchewan and Manitoba have entered into the first stages of the planning process to look at options for converting to group sow housing.
This month, the barns taking part in the pilot study were visited by researchers Jennifer Brown from the Prairie Swine Centre and Laurie Connor and David Wildeman from the University of Manitoba.
During this initial visit, the various group sow housing options were presented, giving the barn staff, managers and research scientists a chance to talk through each system's features and benefits. The sow housing model was showcased to demonstrate what it will bring to the project.
The selected barns also were visited so physical measurements could be taken to upload into the model.
The flooring measurements are critical as they can be the biggest hurdle in any barn conversion. The existing slatted areas, drainage and slurry systems are all set up for sow stalls, and as areas are opened up and group loafing and sleeping areas are set out, the model will take the current flooring into consideration to reduce the impact of any new flooring costs.
The project aims to provide blueprints and cost estimates for barn conversion that producers and the construction team can use to complete the conversion. This information, along with the producers' experiences during the planning process, will be shared with the industry to give other pork producers insight into the practicalities of converting to group housing.
Claude Vielfaure from Hylife Ltd., a pork operation based in Manitoba, explained why the company wanted to be involved in the project.
"As a business, we are always looking at creating programs that will suit our variety of customers' needs, so the idea of working with researchers who have already explored the group sow systems was a great opportunity," Vielfaure said. "The barn visit went well, and our staff got a lot out of seeing the different systems available to the industry."
The Prairie Swine Centre is recognized globally for its contributions to practical, applied science in pork production in the disciplines of nutrition, engineering and applied animal behavior.
Mississippi swine research
A partnership with Prestage Farms Inc. is allowing Mississippi State University to improve its swine research facility as university scientists prepare to resume swine-related studies.
John Blanton, head of the Mississippi State department of animal and dairy Sciences, said there is a need in the Southeast for science-based information on swine production, and "we are addressing that need of our stakeholders through our swine research program."
Shengfa Liao was recently hired in the animal and dairy sciences department as a non-ruminant nutritionist with both teaching duties and research responsibilities in the Mississippi Agricultural & Forestry Experiment Station.
His work focuses on maximizing the efficiency of nutrient utilization by swine.
"As a department, we will be investigating swine management systems that will improve production efficiency in the Southeast," Blanton said. "With the addition of Dr. Liao to the department, our swine research program will be rejuvenated, and our students will receive the well-rounded education that is necessary for successful employment after graduation.
"Dr. Liao's area of research investigates the impact of nutritional regulators on growth," Blanton added. "In order for Dr. Liao's program to succeed, the department needs to create the facilities to support a non-ruminant research program."
Liao said he will soon begin a two-year project to examine the role of amino acids in muscle growth in pigs. He will be working with about 60-80 young pigs at a time.
"I want to explore the biological mechanisms by which pigs utilize dietary amino acids so we can find ways of more efficiently producing quality pork products," Liao said. "This involves improving the pigs' ability to use nutrients and examining nutrients from alternative feedstuffs."
Mark Crenshaw, swine specialist with the Mississippi State Extension Service, said the facility that will house swine research is located at the H.H. Leveck Animal Research Center. While it has housed pigs before, the building has been used as a multipurpose facility in recent years.
"Several things needed to be done to make it workable for a research project," Crenshaw explained of the center.
In partnership with Prestage Farms, Mississippi State has installed feeders, a new watering system, a feed auger system to move feed to the pigs as needed and ventilation curtains that open and close automatically to control the temperature in the facility.
Crenshaw said the facility will not only house swine research but also provide students with firsthand experience to prepare them for working in the swine industry.
"Pigs are used as models for a variety of research projects, and it will be good to have this basic livestock animal species once again in our research facility," Crenshaw said.
Although small numbers of pigs will be housed in the facility at any given time, their presence will give Mississippi State students an opportunity to learn how to care for pigs and manage the animals' needs.
Terry Emerson, general manager of Prestage Farms in West Point, Miss., said the partnership will help the university get back into swine research.
"There is a need for land-grant universities to continue doing research for swine production," Emerson said. "We'd like to see Mississippi State become more engaged in swine production and in the future of our industry."
Porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) is the most economically significant pig disease in the world.
Every year, the American Association of Swine Veterinarians (AASV) holds an International PRRS Symposium to bring together international groups of researchers, veterinarians, students, swine health specialists, companies and producers. The 2013 meeting will be held Dec. 7-8 in Chicago, Ill.
The symposium will focus on the latest discoveries related to PRRS virus and associated disease syndromes, including porcine circovirus associated disease (PCVAD). Additionally, a new coronavirus, porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV), recently emerged and is affecting the industry.
AASV is inviting abstract submissions for all three disease areas. All abstracts that cover PRRS, PCVAD or PEDV will be presented as posters. Selected abstracts may be chosen for special oral presentation. Abstracts must be received by Nov. 1.
Topics for the PRRS symposium include:
* Virus transmission, biosecurity and area control;
* Host response to infection, including host genetics and innate/adaptive immunity;
* Vaccination strategies and therapeutics;
* Detection, diagnostics and surveillance, and
* Virus structure and gene function.
For complete symposium information, visit the North American PRRS Symposium website at www.k-state.edu/vet/na-prrs.