Penn Vet Celebrates Opening of Innovative Swine Teaching and Research Facility
Friday, April 30, 2010
The newly expanded and updated complex positions New Bolton Center at the forefront of swine welfare and husbandry research. The public is invited.
It’s a myth that pigs are dirty animals. Pigs, in fact, are quite fastidious, favoring separate areas for eating, sleeping and eliminating. With that in mind, as well as other health and welfare considerations, the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine has expanded and updated the Swine Teaching and Research Facility at 505 Byrd Road on the New Bolton Center campus in Kennett Square, PA. The project has been funded, in part, by a grant from The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. An official opening is scheduled for May 14th from 10 a.m. before any pigs have begun living in the building, allowing visitors to see the entire facility.
When it was opened in January, 2001, the facility, designed for applied swine research and the teaching of swine production medicine, provided an alternative model for the rearing of mother sows. The original model that has been adapted by swine producers to house approximately 40,000 sows across the country is being updated to examine the latest trends and technologies being implemented in European swine production facilities.
The building features state of the art technologies for animal comfort, feeding and nutrient management, primarily for 200 sows and their piglets. An additional 6,000 square feet of animal space has been added to the 10,000 square foot facility. Here the sows are bred, then deliver and rear their young. There are two major changes to the new building. Farrowing rooms, where sows give birth, will now be completely crateless. Farrowing pens are designed with designated areas for piglet sleeping, piglet nursing/sow laying and sow elimination. The second major change involves the expansion and modification of the gestation area for pregnant sows. The sows now have a choice of different styles of bedded areas in which to lounge and sleep. They can also use their snouts to open a door to an outside “loafing” area. The changes provide opportunities to research the need for bedding, outdoor access and alternatives to the farrowing crate.
Still in place is electronic sow feeding, a computerized feeding system that utilizes a microchip to uniquely identify each animal and ensures the daily delivery of a precise amount of food to each gestating sow. A separate computerized mixing and delivery promises fresh feed any time that an animal in the barn is feed.
The new model of pig husbandry at New Bolton Center was designed by Thomas Parsons VMD, PhD, Associate Professor and Director of the Penn Vet Swine Teaching and Research Center based on his studies of European farms where customer demands have required the development of alternative husbandry practices. The facility was constructed by Farmer Boy Ag Systems of Myerstown, PA. Equipment for the project was graciously supplied by Schauer Agrotonics, Prambachkirchen, Austria; MIK International, Siershahn, Germany; and Automated Products, Assumption, Illinois. Breeding stock for the farm will be provided by PIC, Hendersonville, Tennessee.
According to Ines Rodriguez VMD, Director of the Swine Health and Welfare at the Swine Center, “Alternative husbandry systems are of increasing importance to US pig farmers as there is a growing awareness amongst consumers about where their food is coming from. Consumers are questioning how the animals raised for food production are reared. Improved animal welfare, minimal environmental impact, and the absence of antibiotics and hormones are all attributes that modern consumers are seeking.” The approximately 4,000 piglets born at the facility each year will be sold to independent producers in an antibiotic-free/welfare friendly niche market. An additional 100 piglets are sold to young participants of the Chester County 4H Pig Club.
Alternative husbandry practices offer farmers economic benefits. Animal comfort and health are key to good production and often a premium can be garnered for these animals. “This project,” says Rodriguez, “has been good for both large and small Pennsylvania producers who have found different niches in the market as welfare-friendly producers.” About 10% of the sows housed on Pennsylvania farms are utilizing the “Penn” gestation system developed at New Bolton Center.
A 1,000 square foot classroom with windows in the center of the facility allows for observation of the animals while still maintaining a high level of biosecurity. Another feature of the facility is its capacity to meet 10%-12% of its energy requirements through the use of solar power.
Penn's School of Veterinary Medicine is one of the world's premier veterinary schools. Founded in 1884, the School was built on the concept of Many Species, One Medicine. The birthplace of veterinary specialties, the School serves a distinctly diverse array of animal patients, from pets to horses to farm animals at our two campuses. In Philadelphia, on Penn's campus, are the Matthew J. Ryan Veterinary Hospital for companion animals, as well as classrooms, laboratories and the School's administrative offices. The large-animal facility, New Bolton Center, in Kennett Square, Pa., encompasses hospital facilities for the care of horses and food animals as well as diagnostic laboratories serving the agriculture industry. The School has successfully integrated scholarship and scientific discovery with all aspects of veterinary medical education.
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