July 25, 2021

Knox: New building designs on swine farms in China

Several reports over the last years and a recent presentation at a Carthage Veterinary Services Conference have highlighted some significant changes occurring in the design of housing facilities for pigs in China. The new buildings are being built on sites designated as “mega swine farms.” The nickname comes from the sheer numbers of animals housed and produced at a single location.

The new building designs employed at some of the new sites are unique in that they are multi-story pig buildings. These concrete buildings from the outside look like large hotels that can be 6 to 12 stories high.

The reasons provided for the high density of pigs on a single site and the approach for building upward instead of outward is that available land space is very limited in China and the new farms need to build in remote areas without pigs and African swine fever or other endemic diseases.

The cost for construction at the remote sites is expensive and labor intensive, but could be a viable method to prevent disease entry into the new farm. The new mega farm sites also have strict biosecurity procedures for people, vehicles and animal supplies.

The newest mega farm has been constructed by Muyuan Foods, which is now the world’s largest pig facility. In total, the site will house 105,000 sows and will operate as a farrow-to-finish operation.

The farm will be expected to produce more than 2.2 million pigs each year. The animal facilities are arranged in seven rows of three buildings, with each building housing 5,000 sows.

The top two floors function in gilt development, breeding and gestation, and farrowing. The weaned piglets are moved to the nursery located on the fourth floor.

Later, as the animals grow, they are transferred to finishing on floors one to three. The animals are moved to different floors using elevators.

The animal buildings use double filters for incoming air and use cooling pads to help keep animals comfortable in hot weather. Within each floor, air ducts are used to distribute air to animals. Air leaving the buildings is also filtered to reduce odor.

The production site has a feed mill that will manufacture all its own feed, as well as its own slaughter facility and water recycling system.

At the end of each row, there are dormitories for the farm workers. The workers remain on the site and move between the dorms and their assigned swine building for approximately three weeks before a vacation lasting up to a week.

Biosecurity showers are located in each animal building, and employees must shower and change clothes before entering. The meals are prepared by the company and delivered to each dormitory, since no food is allowed to be brought in by employees, to prevent ASF risk from contaminated foods. There are parks and other areas on the premises for employees to relax and be outside when not at work.

Considerable thought has gone into the design and use of technology to ensure success in the new facility. It was clear that biosecurity was a primary focus in all aspects of planning and design.

The previous years of devastating losses to the Chinese pig industry as a result of ASF have shown that the industry is willing to adapt and make changes.

Pork is a highly desired meal component in China, and the ability of the swine production industry to produce a significant portion of the pork consumed by its citizens, is advantageous for both the economy and consumers.

In the coming years, it will be interesting to learn about the successes and limitations of the new swine buildings and production sites. Perhaps those in other countries may be able to learn from the new systems, as well.

Robert V. Knox is a professor and Extension specialist, Department of Animal Sciences, University of Illinois.