24, No. 5, Sept. 2, 2004
high tech: New
animal facilities will benefit researchers
Sharita Forrest, Assistant Editor
photo to enlarge
by Kwame Ross
beef and sheep units at the South Farms’ new
location in southwest Urbana contain state-of-the-art
systems for feeding animals and removing waste. A
computerized system will enable Larry Berger, a professor
of ruminant nutrition in the department of animal
sciences, and other researchers to collect precise
data on individual animals’ feed consumption
and how different kinds affect growth rates.
Right on the heels
of celebrating a century of agricultural research, the Urbana campus
dedicated animal facilities on the South Farms that administrators and
faculty members hope will keep Illinois at the forefront of agricultural
research and teaching well into another century.
The campus’s new beef and sheep units were dedicated at a ceremony
on Sept. 1, just a little more than a year after the groundbreaking.
The $10 million complex includes eight cattle barns, a sheep barn, an
office building, a feed mixing unit and a house for students to live.
The new barns, some of which are still under construction but slated
for completion during the next several weeks, will be home to approximately
the same number of cattle (600-650) but slightly fewer sheep (approximately
100 total) than the old facilities. Although the new beef and sheep
units, which comprise 53,000 sq. ft. and 19,000 sq. ft. respectively,
are significantly larger than the old facilities, they will require
less manual labor, said Neil Merchen, head of the department of animal
“The types of technology that we have available now for housing
the animals, handling the manure and feeding the animals are a little
bit different now than they were in 1920,” Merchen said. “The
fact is, that even though the technologies are available now to do a
lot of those things with a lot less hands-on effort, it’s very
difficult to implement that technology in facilities that were designed
80-plus years ago.”
As part of a sustainable agriculture initiative, the complex features
a $2 million manure-handling system that is designed to constrain odor,
a concern raised by neighboring homeowners when the university announced
plans to move the South Farms from the original site along St. Mary’s
Road to the new site near South Race Street and Old Church Road in Urbana.
Slotted flooring in the barns will allow waste to drop through into
pools of water beneath the buildings that will sweep it to enclosed
storage tanks. The solids and liquids will be allowed to settle and
separate so that the solids can be sent to a composting facility and
the liquids pumped underground directly into nearby fields. By limiting
the manure’s exposure to air and not spreading or spraying it
above ground, the system is expected to greatly reduce if not eliminate
the odor usually associated with large livestock facilities.
The new units will facilitate research into animal metabolism and nutrition
through a computerized feeding system that will enable researchers to
gather precise data about feed consumption and animals’ growth
rates. Microchips in the animals’ ear tags will emit unique signals
that will trigger the system to “record how much feed is there
when each animal begins to eat and how much feed is there when they
finish eating.” Merchen said.
Robert Easter, dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental
Sciences, said the new facilities are “a real step forward”
and that modernizing the South Farms “is an opportunity for us
to help realize the potential of (other research units) like the Institute
for Genomic Biology.”
The beef/sheep unit is part of the first phase of the university’s
six-phase South Farms modernization project, which is expected to cost
$227 million and likely will take about another decade or more to complete.
Phase 1, which will cost an estimated $23.7 million and was funded by
issuing bonds, also included the land acquisition and establishment
of roads, sewers and other infrastructure to support the remainder of
the project. The first phase also will include moving the swine facility
and feed mill from their current sites just south of Assembly Hall to
the new complex.
Easter said, “We’re anxious to move ahead,” but no
date has been established for the next move, which will be contingent
upon state funding.