NCERA219: Swine Production Management to Enhance Animal Welfare

(Multistate Research Coordinating Committee and Information Exchange Group)

Status: Active

NCERA219: Swine Production Management to Enhance Animal Welfare

Duration: 10/01/2016 to 09/30/2021

Administrative Advisor(s):

NIFA Reps:

Statement of Issues and Justification

Pork production systems in the United States and globally continue to change rapidly with today’s easier access to data and technology, as well as change driven by combinations of economic, societal, and animal health issues. Economic issues such as increased feedstuff costs, stagnant domestic demand, and an oversupply of pigs has forced producers to find new ways to produce pork in an economically sustainable manner. Coincidentally, with these economic challenges, societal concerns such as state-based animal welfare legislation and initiatives, and consumer demands on production practices threaten to drastically change and shape how farmers raise pigs. In many cases, swine producers have persevered through these tough conditions; however, the swine industry, like all livestock-based food producing segments, continues to face an uncertain future with regard to economic viability in the face of future challenges related to animal welfare and methods of production. With continued reductions in federal- and state-based funding for land-grant scientists and research facilities within most university settings, future impactful research will come only as a result of the pooling of resources and talented research personnel across state and global lines. Renewal of the existing NCERA-219 multi-state collaborative research project offers an opportunity to lead the U.S. swine industry into the next decade by building on an excellent track-record of current, issues-based, and forward thinking applied swine management and animal welfare research. Results from this research have been adopted by the U.S. swine industry in the past through the outreach efforts of the NCERA-219 committee members and their colleagues. The progression from development to implementation of a new technology cannot be completed without the middle step, evaluation. New technologies can be evaluated in various ways by many different entities within the swine industry. Large, coordinated pork production systems can evaluate a technology within their production system and determine whether the technology is valuable. Typically, these results do not become or slowly become public information. Commercial companies can evaluate management practices and technologies on their client's operations but the results may be viewed as biased or not relevant to producers in other regions of the country. In addition, independent pork producers can evaluate a technology on their operation but often do not have the expertise, time, or equipment to conduct a scientifically valid study.

The NCERA-219 committee has traditionally focused on applied swine management issues related to animal welfare, production efficiency, and standards of production. Proposed and existing challenges to common animal rearing conditions and practices (ie. space/feeder/waterer allowance; animal care and well-being in relation to pig housing alternatives; alternatives to castration, tail docking, and other invasive procedures) will require sound science to understand and implement the alternatives being suggested. History suggests a very strong commitment by the NCERA-219 group in taking a proactive approach toward identifying and solving critical swine production, management, and animal welfare issues. Committee members represent a broad disciplinary base with specific technical and research training in nutrition, facility design and ventilation, animal care, animal behavior, economics, and general management. Cooperative, coordinated research among experiment stations permits evaluation of technologies in research units located throughout the U.S. In addition, the majority of committee members are experienced extension educators that are actively involved in state and national educational program development and delivery.

The NCERA-219 committee has a long history of conducting and disseminating results of successful cooperative research across universities and with support and funding from industry partners. Much of the research findings reported by the NCERA-219 committee have been implemented in the United States and globally including recent research related to reducing the use of fossil fuels in swine production systems, use of alternative feed ingredients for finishing pigs, feeding management for lactating sows, and continued work to assess optimal pig housing standards. Through collaborative efforts, the NCERA-219 committee has also been a primary driver in delivery of outreach education through on-going programs such as PorkBridge and SowBridge, whereby producers across the U.S. and surrounding countries access distance education materials delivered annually by NCERA-219 scientists. Renewal of the NCERA-219 committee, in a critical time for maintaining the competitive balance of the U.S. swine industry globally, will optimize resources within and across institutions while meeting stakeholder expectations. The committee continues to challenge the industry and producers to be better animal stewards and to encourage necessary change based on sound scientific as well as general ethical principles. Failure of the U.S. swine industry to maintain strong research and technical aspirations will ultimately lead to movement of swine production to other nations and lead to reliance on others to provide U.S. citizens with a safe, wholesome, high-quality, and affordable food supply.


  1. Assess the influence of production management practices on animal performance, energy use and (or) carbon balance in swine production systems.
  2. Assess the welfare, health, and efficiency of swine systems with specific emphasis on space allocation, space utilization, and grouping strategies
  3. Evaluate management strategies for the use of non-traditional feed ingredients
  4. Develop and provide educational resources (manuscripts, factsheets, press releases, etc.) based on scientific findings, targeting pork producers, owners, employees, veterinarians, and (or) financial institutions
  5. Provide educational opportunities to meet national audiences through the use of modern communication technologies, webpages, electronic resources, phone bridges, ITV connections, and time-honored face-to-face meetings in workshops or small group meetings

Procedures and Activities

NCERA-219 committee members represent a unique combination of discipline-based expertise that allows for widespread discovery in research and subsequent application of knowledge to the issues and needs of the US swine industry. Due to their significant roles in extension education and on-going contact with allied industry partners, the NCERA-219 committee maintains farm-level contact, helping to quickly identify research priorities across the swine industry and using the knowledge to design and complete collaborative, across-university research using both university and commercial facilities. A proven record of commercial collaborations through funding, access to commercial facilities, and industry expertise extends the opportunities for effective and timely research. NCERA-219 committee members address production issues that encompass all phases of production, from the breeding herd through to the finishing stage of production, while expanding the reach to include relevant environmental outcomes including energy use, water quality, mortality disposal, and air quality, factors that can greatly contribute to real-world needs and ultimately influence the health, welfare and productivity of the pigs and livelihood of the producer. The continued commitment among NCERA-89 members to identify and address applied and basic swine industry issues, as evidenced by the research and outreach endeavors that have been completed through the committee in the past, drive the successful nature of the committee as a whole.

Using a relatively standardized research template, the committee develops research and subsequent outreach programs in a timely manner. Identified research priority areas are championed by a committee member who then assumes leadership in the development of a final protocol that is distributed, discussed, and finalized with agreement among all participating stations. Study coordinators collate data from all stations, conduct statistical analysis of data, and form an initial interpretation of the results for review within the committee. Ultimately, the project coordinator prepares abstracts and full-length papers for publication. Below are some of the salient points contained within our research protocol template for nursery and finishing swine.

• All participating experiment stations must conduct a minimum of two replications.
• Diets meet or exceed all NRC (1998) nutrient requirements and will be provided according to the recommendations of each station. Local grain and premixes are used.
• Performance criteria to be measured are determined based on the scope of the experiment.
• Extensive pig behavior and welfare assessments are included when sufficient extramural funding is secured. If extramural funding is not available, more cursory measures of pig welfare are included in the study.
• All laboratory and behavior analysis procedures are performed at a common location.
• Statistical analyses use a model that includes station, treatment, replicate, and the appropriate interactions.
• Similar standardization is attempted for experiments involving breeding swine. However, due to a general reduced availability of breeding animals and facilities, the template is adjusted, to the extent necessary, to allow for the strongest statistical approach available when measuring breeding animals.

Expected Outcomes and Impacts

  • Coordination of research and extension programs: Solicitation of extramural funding has been a priority of the NCERA-219 committee in an effort to enhance research opportunities and effectiveness. Several grants have been written and submitted to organizations. The ability to secure external funding has significantly improved the opportunities to leverage within university resources and expand participation in projects. As an example, in 2015 the Minnesota Pork Producers Council funded research to evaluate the impact of space allocation on pig performance and welfare when taken to heavy market weights (300 lb. and greater). This project will be initiated in late 2015 and completed in late 2016 across a minimum of 5 cooperating stations.
  • Development and dissemination of education resources: Outreach efforts, including annual SowBridge and PorkBridge producer education programs have delivered timely, science-based research findings in a producer-applicable form over the past 8 to 10 years. Ventilation training workshops conducted by members, through mobile simulation buildings, have provided on-site, hands on access to modern computerized ventilation controllers and air inlets, with the training reaching hundreds of production sites and thousands for on-site caretakers, across each participating state. Committee members have been instrumental in the finalization and maintenance of the National Swine Nutrition Guide. In addition, each participating member conducts in-state programming efforts where findings of collaborative research are disseminated directly to the state and local audiences. The education efforts and use of materials developed by members have improved the economics of swine production across the U.S. and addressed key factors that can influence the welfare and efficiency of pigs in production settings.
  • Publication of joint research articles and/or review articles on swine management issues: L. J. Johnston, M. C. Brumm, S. J. Moeller, S. Pohl, M. C. Shannon, and R. C. Thaler. 2013. Effects of reduced nocturnal temperature on pig performance and energy consumption in swine nursery rooms. J. Anim. Sci. 91: 3429-3435: Li, Y. Z., L. H. Wang, L. J. Johnston, A. M. Hilbrands, and X. L. Xie. 2012. Behavioral response of nursery pigs to reduced nocturnal temperature. J. Anim. Sci. 90(Suppl. 2):20.: Flohr, J. R., M. D. Tokach, S. S. Dritz, J. C. Woodworth, J. M. DeRouchey, and R. D. Goodband. 2015. Application of Alternative Floor Space Prediction Equations using Microsoft Excel®. Kansas Agricultural Experiment Station Research Reports: Vol. 1: Iss. 7: Johnston, L. J., and Y. Z. Li. 2013. Performance and well-being of sows housed in pens retrofitted from gestation stalls. J. Anim. Sci. 91:5937-5945: Rozeboom, D. W., L. Johnston, B.T. Richert and the NCERA- 219 Committee. 2014. Switching feed ingredients in/out of grow-finish diets. Proc. Midwest Swine Nutrition Conf. Indianapolis, IN. September 9. pp. 57-66: Rozeboom, D.W. 2014. Feeding the sow: Peri-partum. Proc. London Swine Conference, Positioning for Success. London, ON, Canada. March 26. pp. 39-44.
  • Exchange of ideas and/or information/data: True collaboration efforts have and are currently ongoing in relation to the objectives for the NCERA-219 committee. The annual meeting serves a very important role in exchange of research and outreach ideas. Meetings are held on cooperating University sites and include facility and laboratory tours, arranged discussions with local industry contacts, and general think-tank sessions to address future needs and opportunities.

Projected Participation

View Appendix E: Participation

Educational Plan

PorkBridge® - Grow-Finish Educational Series annually address issues influencing pig health & welfare, space allocation & use, production & carcass measurements influencing economic and animal efficiency measures, as well as environmental control & management priorities. The PorkBridge® concept is in the tenth year and includes the following institutions: University of Minnesota, Iowa State University, University of Nebraska, South Dakota State University, Ohio State University, Purdue University, University of Illinois, Kansas State University, Michigan State University, University of Missouri, and North Carolina State University. Sessions are designed for accessibility across the U.S. and extend to other countries through the use of a toll-free telephone connection to expert speakers in topic areas. Participants receive a CD via U.S. mail one week before each session that contains a PowerPoint file that a noted expert will present over the phone on the appointed day. Participants' feedback indicates the delivery approach allows them to maintain nearly normal swine operation functions without travel, allows access for the entire farm crew in a single, lunch-time setting, and offers highly valued scientific information for a fraction of the cost of in-person attendance for the entire crew.

Sow-Bridge® - Breeding Herd Educational Series annually addresses scientific approaches for breeding, lactation, and general breeding herd management to improve economic, health, production, welfare, and general animal management factors in U.S. and international swine herds. Using a format similar to PorkBridge® and a group of member universities as the guiding entity, swine breeding personnel are provided access to leading scientists from the NCERA committee and other allied individuals via a phone-based program using CD-based PowerPoint files for visuals. In its ninth year, the program has been met with great success among the participants as a method to deliver high-quality material in a cost-effective manner.

The strength of the swine nutrition and management expertise within the NCERA-89 committee is fully evident in the roll out of the new National Swine Nutrition Guide (NSNG), a comprehensive education and extension effort by faculty from 9 Land Grant universities, the US Pork Center of Excellence and the United Soybean Board. The culmination of extensive collaborative among swine nutritionists resulted in the development of 35 up-to-date factsheets covering all phases of swine production. In addition, a computer-based diet formulation spreadsheet was developed to support dietary decision making within the industry.

Outreach activities are also clearly demonstrated within each individual state, where data from NCERA-219 collaborative research are disseminated through a significant number of methods. Today, every member of NCERA-219 contributes to the efforts of the U.S. Pork Center of Excellence’s Pork Information Gateway (PIG) project as either Domain Editors, factsheet authors and (or) factsheet reviewers. Nearly all committee members have established university-based web-sites to enhance access to NCERA-219 research findings, disseminated research through weekly/monthly e-newsletters, blogs, popular press articles, and university factsheet publications.

Throughout the existence of the NCERA-219 committee structure, outreach education has been a priority. The record speaks for itself and will continue with the extension of the NCERA-89 authorization.

Success Stories:

Basic and Advanced Swine Ventilation Short Courses have been conducted in ten states representing over 80% of the hogs marketed in the United States. Through the coordinated efforts of personnel and concept-ventilation trailers located in the Midwest (Iowa, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Missouri), Ohio, and North Carolina, these courses continue to evolve as new, computer-driven software and hardware for ventilating swine facilities emerge. Industry equipment suppliers continue to support the training through contributions of new control units, direct involvement in training, and promotion of events for clientele of all sizes.

Reduced nocturnal temperature research in nursery facilities have been published and implemented in swine housing systems. Reducing the cost of heating fuel and electricity by 29% without a reduction in pig efficiency or health was an exceptionally promising outcome of the research. Estimates of cost savings through implementation across the swine industry, concurrent with historical prices of energy sources, represent $34,000,000 annually ($1.71 per pig) and a reduction in green-house gases equivalent to 140,720,000 kilograms (in CO2 equivalents).


The NCERA-219 committee governance will be directed through peer elections of officers. Annually, peers will nominate and select a Secretary. The Secretary will be responsible for maintaining minutes of the annual meeting and submission of required information to the NIMMS site. Annually, the previous year's secretary will move to President. The president will be responsible for managing the annual meeting process. Sites for annual meeting are determined within the committee, attempting to rotate the annual meeting location among the participating university sites.

Projects are determined through thorough discussions among the committee members. Collaboration is defined based on availability of resources within an institution that fit the needs of the project. Once projects are identified, a committee member takes leadership in official development of protocol, organization of participants, final summary of data from contributing stations, and ultimately a final manuscript for publication.

Literature Cited


Land Grant Participating States/Institutions


Non Land Grant Participating States/Institutions

Southern Illinois University
Log Out ?

Are you sure you want to log out?

Press No if you want to continue work. Press Yes to logout current user.

Report a Bug
Report a Bug

Describe your bug clearly, including the steps you used to create it.