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New pig farms bring soil health advantages, maximize pig health

ENGLEVALE, N.D. — Anyone hanging out on the gravel roads near the Ransom County Multiplier, a 2,500-sow barn near Englevale, isn't likely to smell anything coming from the barns. They may not see trucks hauling manure to neighboring fields.

Brian Zimprich, North Dakota State University Extension Agent for Ransom County and a member of the North Dakota Pork Council, explains that is because modern pig operations have taken careful steps to ensure that they are taking care of the environment and natural resources.

"There are many things these modern swine facilities are doing, a lot of research-based information that's come out over the last several years that help mitigate these odors that individuals perceive as bad for the environment," he says.

For instance, technology in the ventilation systems blocks some of the odor from making it out of the barns, he says. And manure is stored in cement bunkers beneath the facility, then pumped out to nearby fields by hoses. That means fewer trucks hauling manure and less potential for spills. Once at the fields, the manure is knifed in to the field.

"It can get covered up right away," Zimprich says.

The manure itself serves to improve soil quality and replace commercial fertilizers with a cheaper option that's better for the crops.

"It's a natural fertilizer. It's much like the fertilizer producers buy in town at the local elevator, but this way it's natural," Zimprich says. "It's your nitrogen, your phosphorus, your potassium that they're buying commercially, and this way it's natural. It's produced in the animal waste, which is a lot of times better than going and purchasing the commercially made fertilizers that a lot of these producers are currently using."

Local farmers benefit more than just getting manure from a local pig barn, Zimprich says. Ransom County Multiplier, for instance, uses about 88,000 bushels of corn and 700 tons of soybean meal during the course of a year.

"The producers right around here are benefitting from some of their grains being purchased here locally and used in the feedstuff for this swine operation," Zimprich explains.

The barns themselves also serve an important function in keeping pigs safe and healthy. Zimprich says modern barns like the Ransom County Multiplier are biosecure facilities that cut down on the number of people going inside. Movement of animals out of the facility also is minimized, and the herd inside is "closed," meaning no new animals are brought in. Those kinds of precautions allow the facilities to cut back on treatments and on the use of antibiotics.

"You're getting a better product in the end point," Zimprich says.

Plus, keeping the pigs inside cuts down on stress. The purpose of the Ransom County Multiplier is to produce high health, good quality replacement breeding females for members of the Nelson County Pig Cooperative. Keeping animals healthy means better herds and a better bottom line. The barns are kept at a constant, pleasant temperature for the animals. So recent storms and cold weather did not have any effect on the pigs.

"The last few days when we've had our unfortunate weather, these pigs were in a nice warm facility," Zimprich says. "The temperatures didn't fluctuate. They didn't have to deal with the environmental conditions on the outside, and they're going to remain healthy through their growing process."