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July 23rd, 2013
NEWELL, Iowa – Insulated portable dwellings used for thousands of years by nomadic people in central Asia have found another creative use on an Iowa State University research farm: keeping baby pigs comfortable.
Researchers have custom-fitted a large round tent, also called a yurt, to farrow sows and their newborn pigs at the ISU Allee Research and Demonstration Farm near Newell in northwest Iowa. The farm is hosting a field day Aug. 15 to share first-year results from the yurt project, funded by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, and other work that explores livestock production for niche markets.
Collaborating on the project is Pete Lammers, an assistant professor at Illinois State University who worked on niche pork projects while an ISU graduate student. He said eight litters of pigs in two groups have been raised in the yurt since it was set up a year ago. A third group of pigs will be using the yurt in time for the August field day.
“The pigs are performing as we would expect. Some sows work very well in it and others are less adapted to this type of system,” Lammers said. “Our biggest challenge in terms of weather was last August when it was so hot. We’ve found that it’s more difficult to cool down a pig than to keep it warm.”
The cost for the yurt was about $12,000. Although it was easy to set up, the tent needed a rigid plastic barrier to protect it from manure and from chewing by the pigs. They also built four wooden pie-shaped pens inside the structure, which is 24 ft. in diameter, to isolate sows during farrowing. After birth, the partitions are removed, which allows greater pig movement and group lactation.
Lammers said the project demonstrates versatility of housing for pigs. He said he hopes to use some of the design concepts in other systems that also would be low in cost and portable – options particularly helpful for new farmers, beginning farmers and those who do not have long-term land arrangements.
Self-guided tours of the yurt will begin at 5:15 p.m., with a meal and program to follow at 6 p.m. The field day is free and open to the public.
In addition to the yurt project, researchers will present findings from two other experiments in raising livestock for niche markets: performance of Berkshire pigs in bedded hoop barns at the ISU Western Research Farm near Castana and finishing choice beef on grass at the ISU Armstrong Research Farm near Lewis.
The farm is located at 2030 640th St. southeast of Newell. To get to the farm, travel about 1.5 miles west on a gravel road that intersects Highway 7 at the curve southeast of Newell.
The Allee farm contains livestock and those visiting it are asked to take a few precautions: change clothing and footwear after being at another livestock operation, and refrain from bringing any food items to the farm. Those who have recently returned from a trip abroad are asked to wait five days before visiting the farm. If you have any questions about the precautions, call the Research and Demonstration Farms office at (515) 294-5045.
The field day is hosted by the ISU Research and Demonstration Farms in collaboration with ISU Extension and Outreach, the Leopold Center, Iowa Pork Industry Center and the Illinois State University Department of Agriculture.