Ag Experiment Station takes a closer look at hogs

American Yorkshire is a potential variety available for testing.
American Yorkshire is a potential variety available for testing.

In addition to his ranch manager duties, as Assistant Director of the Agriculture Experiment Stations, Bo Kindred is preparing for a research project, the Alternative Production Systems in Growing Finishing Swine Utilizing Pasture and Influence on Pig Growth. The Hog Project, as it’s affectionately referred to, will look at the economic feasibility of raising pigs in a pasture, free-range setting.

Bo will act as primary investigator, Main Station Field Lab Manager, Luke Thompson and Associate Professor and veterinary microbiologist Mike Teglas will serve as CO-PIs. The team also includes Associate Professor Antonio Faciola an animal nutritionist, Wolf Pack Meats manager Mike Holcomb and Cooperative Extension’s specialist for alternative crops and forage, Jay Davidson.

Nevada is not a large pig producing state. One reason for that is Nevada is not a much of a grain producer. Our climate is not ideal for growing traditional ingredients in commercial swine feed such as corn and soybean. So the cost to feed pigs isn’t economical.

“What we would like to know, is can we grow pigs in a pasture, free-range setting,” Kindred said, “in such a way that the small to medium producer looking to diversify can benefit.”

The small to medium size producer may benefit from the study showing the cost effectiveness of raising pigs on forage and in an outdoor finishing system. With interest in animal welfare increasing, pasture and free-range raised pigs may also be more appealing to consumers thus a worthy investment for producers.

To study the alternative production system, the team will consider swine feed costs, daily gain, days to market and quality of the final product. The goal is to find different forages for small to medium producers to use that are cost efficient and that provide the best finish and taste.

When considering feed costs the team will look at what forage the swine gravitate to, how well they consume the forage, the amount of forage consumed and how much feed will need to be supplemented in winter.

“We’d like to find different forages small and medium producers could use to increase their net profits,” said Kindred.

There are four different treatments that will be tested over three phases. One treatment example is triticale, a small grain component grown in Nevada that is already being used to feed cattle as grain hey. Other examples include teff, canola and alfalfa, all as part of a pasture mix. The team will also look at things like how pigs gravitate toward alfalfa and determine if it provides the best growth.

Nutritionally, Faciola will analyze the feed differences. He will compare what combination of forage is providing the most value to the pigs. Teglas will look at differences in health. Specifically, he will compare the health of free-range pigs with those commercially raised that traditionally suffer from pneumonia and respiratory issues because of ventilation. In the open-air, free-range situation Teglas will also use annual deworming to prevent parasites, as is currently practiced with cattle and sheep. “With the outdoor finishing model the pigs health may also benefit from earthworms and vitamin D,” Teglas said.

The 3-year study will start with pigs raised in a grow-finish model and fed using three grazing styles and one traditional confined finish (control group). For all treatments, the average daily gain, days to market, feed cost, carcass quality, taste, and labor costs. The second and third phases of the study, animals will be used to validate the finishing model that is the least costly and most useful to swine production in Nevada. After the original animals are harvested, another set of animals will replace them over fall and winter. The team will determine how well the second set will fare feeding on the standing forage remaining in the field and how much commercial feed supplements are need over winter.

On the educational side, student employees will be able to prep, feed and look over live stock health. They will play an integral role through mini-projects created for this opportunity. Instructors will also be able to use the pigs for some hands-on education through veterinarian medicine and microbiology.

by Jerri Williams-Conrad