Swine Teaching and Research Center

Penn Vet's Swine facilityToday the US swine industry finds itself confronted with rapidly changing public opinion and policy on how gestating sows should be housed. Penn Vet is uniquely positioned to provide the industry with relevant scientific data collected from this living laboratory.

Today the US swine industry finds itself confronted with rapidly changing public opinion and policy on how gestating sows should be housed. Penn Vet is uniquely positioned to provide the industry with relevant scientific data collected from this living laboratory.

A Model Facility

  • Designed for applied swine research and the teaching of swine production medicine, the Swine Teaching and Research Center at New Bolton Center was opened in January 2001. This innovative Center provides a crucial link between Penn Vet and the Pennsylvania swine industry by serving as a model modern and humane swine facility.

    The building features state-of-the-art technologies for animal comfort, animal feeding, and nutrient management. The entire facility was designed to maximize animal welfare with technologies imported from Europe and since its opening has been at the cutting edge of sow comfort.

Microchip Technology and Natural Behavior

  • In the barn, pregnant sows live together in a pen of 60-70 animals, each with a microchip in its ear. Using the individual microchip data, the computerized feeding system identifies a sow as it enters the electronic sow feeder, where it gets a quarter pound of feed at a time until it eats its allotment of about 6 pounds a day.

    The sows, which weigh 400-600 pounds, spend much of their time resting in bays along a wall. The same animals lie in the same area every day and raise a ruckus if a sow that does not belong to a given clique tries to squeeze in.

Farrowing Room Facilities

  • The farrowing room facilities were also designed with animal welfare in mind. A lactating sow will spend one week in a modified farrowing crate which will protect her newborn babies from inadvertently being crushed. After one week, the farrowing crate is opened allowing the mother to have unfettered access to her offspring inside a 50-square-foot pen. This original model has been adapted by swine producers to house approximately 65,000 sows, or one percent of the country’s sow herd.

Facilities Upgrade for Optimal Care

  • While the staff at the swine center continues to help farmers adopt these husbandry practices, it was recognized that the design of the original facility had served its useful lifetime.   In an effort to address important issues still on the horizon to both consumers and swine farmers, the facility was recently updated for the study of 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.

Crateless Living

  • 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.

    The 4,000 piglets born at the facility each year will be sold to independent producers in antibiotic-free/welfare friendly niche markets. Each spring several piglets are sold to young participants of the local 4H pig clubs.

Electronic Sow Feeding System

  • 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.

Design and Construction

  • 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 were provided by Pig Improvement Company (PIC), Hendersonville, Tennessee.

Impacts of an Increased Herd Size

  • The increased herd size has facilitated research initiatives at the swine center where the emphasis is on how to best manage this alternative systems and who are the right animals to be reared in these facilities. Ongoing projects are graciously supported by PIC, National Pork Board, American Society for the Prevention of Cruely to Animals, Pennsylvania Pork, Producers Council, Pennsylvania Soybean Board, American Humane Association and the Swiss Village Farm Foundation.


  • 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. The recent addition of a video camera through out the barn further enhances the research capacity as well as the ability of visitors to learn more about the swine center. Another feature of the facility is its capacity to meet 10-12 percent of its energy requirements through the use of solar power.

Swine Influenza 

Clinical signs 

Acute febrile, respiratory disease characterized by apathy, anorexia, labored breathing Piglet in Swine Unit at New Bolton Center(+/- coughing in later stages, also sneezing, nasal discharge and conjunctivitis may be seen less frequently).

  • Morbidity can be up to 100% in a herd outbreak, mortality is low.
  • Recovery is rapid – usually 5 - 7 days after onset of clinical signs.
  • Secondary bacterial infections can result in pneumonia.


  •  Swine influenza is widespread and endemic throughout the world.
  • H1N1 and H3N2 infections are responsible for 50% of the cases of acute respiratory disease in pigs.
  • Swine influenza is related to movement of infected pigs to susceptible herds and clinical disease appears with introduction of new pigs into a herd.
  • In an infected herd, the disease persists through production of young susceptible pigs and introduction of new stock.
  • Outbreaks peak in colder months.
  • Disease transmission is direct and occurs via the nasopharyngeal route (aerosols that are formed during sneezing or coughing) or indirectly after physical contact.
  • Nasal secretions are laden with virus during the febrile (acute) state which will last for 5 days.
  • Severity of disease is dependent on maternal immunity, virus strain, route of inoculation and secondary bacterial infections.
  • Influenza vaccines are available for pigs.

Diagnostic Testing in Pennsylvania

  • New Bolton Center
    University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine
    382 West Street Road
    Kennett Square, PA, 19348-1692
    610-444-5800 (ext. 6710)
  • Animal Diagnostic Laboratory
    Pennsylvania State University Animal Diagnostic Laboratory
    Pennsylvania State University
    Orchard Road
    University Park, PA 16802
  • Pennsylvania Veterinary Laboratory – Harrisburg
    Pennsylvania Veterinary Laboratory
    PA Department of Agriculture
    2305 North Cameron Street
    Harrisburg PA, 17110-9408
  • Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture
New Bolton Center Swine Teaching & Research Center
    Name Title
Tom Parsons, Penn Vet, New Bolton Center, swine  Thomas Parsons, VMD, PhD
  • Director, Swine Teaching & Research Center
  • Associate Professor of Swine Production Medicine, Department of Clinical Studies – New Bolton Center
  •  Associate Professor of Otorhinolaryngology: Head and Neck Surgery, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine  
  • Ph: 610-925-6220 
  • Fax: 610-925-6834
  • Email: thd@vet.upenn.edu
Dr. Ines Rodriguez, Swine Unit  Ines Rodriguez, VMD
  • Lecturer, Swine Production
  • Staff Veterinarian
  •  Ph: 610-925-6315
  • Fax: 610-925-6834
  • Email: ines2@vet.upenn.edu
  Johannes Kauffold
  • Swine Specialist and Diagnostician
   Seth Dunipace, PhD
 Post-doctoral Fellow
   Kristina Horback, PhD  Post-doctoral Fellow  khorback@vet.upenn.edu
  Meghann Pierdon, PhD  Post-doctoral Fellow  mpierdon@vet.upenn.edu
   Laurie Mack, PhD  Post-doctoral Fellow  lauriem@vet.upenn.edu

There has been extensive news coverage Penn Vet's Swine Teaching and Research Center. We include some of these articles in the tables below as downloadable PDFs:


News Articles (PDFs)
 Title  Publication  Date
 The Quest to Build a Better Pig
 Fast Company
 Feb 2015
 Crate Controversy
 wthr.com  Feb 2015
 The New Ethics of Eating
 Christian Science Monitor
 Dec 2014
 Porklife: Building a Better Pig
 Mosaic  June 2014
Pig Tech: Improving Pork's Future
 Modern Farmer
 Sept 2013
Research: Switching from Stalls to Pen Gestation
 Meristem Land & Science
 Aug 2013
  Group housing for sows: Can it be done effectively?
 Vita Plus
 May 2013
  Lessons Learned: Conversion of Gestation Stalls
 Western Hog Journal
 May 2013
  Sow Expert Says Loose Housing Can Work
 Feedstuffs FoodLink
 Dec 2012
  University Sow Expert Says 'Penn Gestation' Works
 Feedstuffs  Dec 2012
 Does Science Support Pen Gestation?
 Brownfieldagnews.com  Dec 2012
 Hog Industry Moves Closer to Crate-Free
 Lancaster County Agricultural Council
 Dec 2012
 Alternatives in Sow Housing
 brownfieldagnews.com  Dec 2012
 In the Industry  Lancasterfarming.com  July 2012
 Swine Welfare Closely Studied at Penn Vet
 Penn Current
 May 2012
 Successful Implementation of ESF on mid-sized US Farms
 Pig Equipment News: Schauer Agrotronic GmbH
 Dec 2012
New Bolton Vet Honored by NY Farmers Club
 June 2011
 UPenn Student Wins Fullbright Grant to Study Swine
 National Hog Farmer
May 2011
 Innovative Swine Teaching and Research Facility  The Pig Site  May 2010
 Champion of the Animal Welfare Conundrum
 Leading the Way/pennag.com
 Nov/Dec 2009
 Making ESF Work
 National Hog Farmer
 Aug 2007
 Stalls or Pens? Ask the Sows!
 National Hog Farmer
 Aug 2007

Giving Animals Space

 Philly.com  Mar 2007
 Fewer DOAs with Auto-Sort Pigs
 National Hog Farmer
 Nov 2004
 Swine Center on Cutting Edge of Welfare
 National Hog Farmer
 June 2002