Farrow-to-finish facility for K-State swine provides research, hands-on learning

Dylan Goeckel, senior in agribusiness, holds a piglet inside the farrowing house at K-State's Swine Teaching and Research Facility on Feb. 27, 2017. Goeckel is one of the many K-State students who works with the animals regularly. (Regan Tokos | The Collegian)

Whether it is through research projects, hands-on and class activities or part-time employment, the Kansas State Swine Teaching and Research Facility provides many opportunities for students.

The swine unit was built in the late 1960s after a tornado wiped out the original farms that were north of Weber Hall. Since then, the farrow-to-finish facility has grown to a 150 sow herd operation, producing about 3,000 finishing pigs — which are the pigs that have reached the optimal market weight to be taken to harvest — every year.

A farrow-to-finish facility has barns for each stage of production in a pig’s life, from farrowing — the process of a female pig giving birth to her litter — to weaning — when the litter is taken from the mother — to finishing.

“It is a very practical and functional farm,” Mark Nelson, swine unit manager, said. “All the pigs are well cared for and are very healthy.”

With each litter, sows — female pigs that have given birth — will farrow an average of 12 to 14 pigs.

After a new group of sows farrow every 35 days, their piglets stay with the sow for about 21 days and are then weaned into the nursery barn where they will stay for another eight to 10 weeks. They are then moved into the finishing barn, where they spend another 14 to 16 weeks until they have reached the market weight.

The majority of harvest-ready pigs are sold to a commercial packing facility in St. Joseph, Missouri. However, for teaching and research purposes, a small number of the pigs are processed in Weber Hall.

The meat from the pigs at the swine unit is then sold either at Call Hall or at the Weber Hall meat sale that occurs every Friday afternoon.


At the unit, biosecurity standards and processes are met daily to ensure continuous health.

Biosecurity standards are met when every visitor and worker who has been in contact with other pigs is required to shower and change into the coveralls and boots provided by the facility to protect the farm from any harmful bacteria or diseases.

Others are required to change their shoes and sanitize their hands.

“We are very fortunate to have a very healthy herd and by following biosecurity protocols, our goal is to keep diseases off the farm,” Nelson said.

One such disease, porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, affected swine at 38 South Dakota farms alone in 2016. Even though there have been fewer cases in surrounding states, this disease is still a concern for producers because it can spread quickly and can be deadly to piglets.

Research, Experience

There are currently seven faculty members at the unit, each with their graduate students who utilize it for research. The facility also has various undergraduate classes that visit to experience hands-on learning.

At the farm, there are three full-time employees, with a range of 12 to 14 graduate students who conduct their research at the unit to work for their graduate or doctoral programs.

There has been a focus recently to encourage undergraduate students to develop their own research projects. With faculty and graduate student supervision, there are about four to six undergraduate students each year who have the opportunity to visit the facility to gain exposure to the steps of conducting their research.

Most of the current research projects at the unit focus on nutrient requirements for different ages or stages of production of different pigs. A few of these specialized projects include vitamin and mineral requirements and amino acid requirements for swine health.

The research program also emphasizes applied research to help other swine producers in the industry become more profitable by improving management techniques and lowering feed costs.

“K-State has a national and international reputation for the quality of research that is conducted at the farm and its direct application of these research findings to swine producers,” Nelson said.

Student Learning

“My favorite part about working at the farm is the variety of tasks,” Cannon Woodward, junior in wildlife, fisheries and conservation biology, said. “It is pretty hard to be bored out there because we are always doing different things.”

Woodward is from Wamego, Kansas, and said he did not have any previous experience with working at a swine operation before coming to K-State.

Alex White, senior in agribusiness, also said he did not have any previous experience with working in swine production before starting his employment at the unit. He said working there has given him the opportunity to learn about how to work with pigs and handle them properly.

“One of the main parts that I’ve enjoyed about working out here is being able to work with animals and get my mind off of school,” White said. “I also enjoy telling people that I work at the university swine farm since it’s not usually a common job that other college student partake in.”

Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series showcasing K-State livestock units. Next week’s story will feature the equine unit.