Is this the pig farm of the future?

At the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center's model pig farm, free-roaming sows are implanted with RFID chips, nourished by organic feed, and powered by solar energy.
calendar icon 9 September 2019
clock icon 6 minute read

The Swine Center’s farming research is starting to have real impacts on the nearby community. According to Parsons, around 60 percent of the sows raised in Pennsylvania are no longer confined to gestation stalls, more than any state besides the three that ban the practice. Many of those farms, Parsons says, are also looking to minimise their use of antibiotics.

Bob Ruth of Clemens Food Group is one such producer who has benefited from the expertise of Penn Vet researchers. Ruth has worked with Parsons and Gary Althouse, associate dean of sustainable agriculture and veterinary practices, for decades to innovate and modernise his company’s large-scale operations.

“It’s a great relationship,” Ruth says. He has invited vet students to visit and work on research projects involving the company’s farms, and in turn receives guidance and professional connections that have put him at the leading edge of the industry.

“Working with Penn Vet, we are continuing to innovate and adopt practices that allow us to deliver more freedom to our animals in a modern pig-producing farm. We feel very fortunate to be connected with people like Tom and Gary.”

To keep firms like Ruth’s at the forefront of innovation, while ensuring overall sustainability, the Swine Center is working to anticipate how the need for different resources will fluctuate and change in the coming decades.

“From an agricultural standpoint, resources are finite,” says Althouse. “How are those resources best utilized for the growth that we’re expecting when you look at 10 years, 20 years, 50 years?”

Althouse aims to help educate the next generation of veterinarians, as well as the public, about the importance of sustainable agriculture.

“What I’m excited about here at Penn Vet is to be able to better formalise, ‘What is sustainability?’” he says. “Being able to address it beyond just looking at an organism or looking at an animal, but looking holistically, and providing that training to our veterinary students, as well as through our outreach to better sustainability of agriculture.”

Sows at Penn Vet have access to outdoor open space, an amenity that translates to improved welfare for the animals. Penn Vet is helping farmers across the state embrace new practices to help make food products more appealing to today's buyers
Sows at Penn Vet have access to outdoor open space, an amenity that translates to improved welfare for the animals. Penn Vet is helping farmers across the state embrace new practices to help make food products more appealing to today's buyers

© Eric Sucar, the University of Pennsylvania Office of University Communications

Thomas Parsons, director of Penn Vet’s Swine Teaching and Research Center, cradles a piglet at the farm's location on New Bolton Center's campus
Thomas Parsons, director of Penn Vet’s Swine Teaching and Research Center, cradles a piglet at the farm's location on New Bolton Center's campus

© Eric Sucar, the University of Pennsylvania Office of University Communications

Gina Vitale

Gina Vitale was a science writing intern for the University of Pennsylvania Office of University Communications.

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