Animal Science cow/calf, swine units renovated

Drew Carroll Managing Editor

It seems like every department is being updated on campus with all of the construction equipment around. The Department of Animal Science is also in that mindset as it renovates both its cow/calf and swine research units.

Cow/Calf Unit

According to Department Head 

Joseph Cassady, the most recent renovations to the cow/calf unit took place in 1955. Many of the old facilities were outdated. A fire in 2011 that burned down the main barn on the site was a tipping point to get the ball rolling on the new project. The Board of Regents and the South Dakota legislature have approved the project ideas.


Although there was an original budget set when work began, the updates have exceeded it. When the project is complete, it is expected to cost roughly $6 million. According to Professor Cody Wright, who is in charge of the cow/calf unit, some of the money came from an insurance check from the fire in the old barn, but many individual family farms and ranches gave gifts of five-digit figures. The project also accepted donations from companies such as Zoetis and Dakotaland Feeds. The Higher Education Reinvestment Fund has also provided funds. The state also sold bonds to fund the construction of the new facilities. Both Cassady and Wright said the fundraising effort was a grassroots effort.

“It has been a real grassroots effort, where we are trying to get people that have an interest in the beef industry across the state, they have all contributed to the project,” Wright said.


Cassady mentioned that the old cow/calf unit served the department well for a long time, but later stated that a large number of students have better facilities at home than the ones on campus. 

The renovation will give students an opportunity to learn in modern facilities with state-of-the-art equipment. The new buildings will allow the animal science department to expand its research capacity as well as do more extension and outreach type work.

The project is on track to be completed in December and, according to Wright, research will begin in the new facilities after the first of the year.

Classrooms and lab areas will be one feature of the new cow/calf unit. The classrooms will be used not only for undergraduate classes but can also host producer meetings and other extension and outreach events. 

According to Wright, the classrooms are designed to accommodate 80 people in a theatre-style setting and 60 people with tables. The labs have been designed to be used for things such as sample preparation, before the samples are sent back to campus to the research labs.

Buildings with classrooms and labs will provide heated working and calving areas. These will allow students to learn in an area where they are less susceptible to the harshness of the climate in the winter months. 

Another element of the new cow/calf unit is a monoslope barn which will feature 48 electronic feeding bunks that have the capability to track feed and water intake from each individual animal. There will also be 12 paddocks of 10 acres each, which will all have different types of grasses. Wright and Cassady said the new facility would allow the department to better accomplish the land-grant missions.

“The buildings will have a research, teaching and extension and outreach mission, which are of course the three parts of our land-grant mission, and let us do a much better of job of meeting the needs of both our students and our stakeholders,” Cassady said.

The new unit has a holding capacity of around 500 animals, but according to Wright it will probably not have to accommodate such a large number. The monoslope building has a 250-head capacity. Cassady expects the cowheard to reach 150 head of calving cows. He expects the 500 animals would also include some bulls and heifers.

Nutritional, reproduction and grazing research are all types of research that could be done at the new facilities. Other types of research such as genetic research can be done onsite, too, Wright said.

Swine Unit Funding

According to Bob Thaler, an extension swine specialist, the idea for the new swine unit came to life in November or December of 2011, when the South Dakota Pork Producers had an extra $10,000 in their budget. They wanted SDSU to help replace its boar barn. 

The previous barn was built in 1936. Discussions took place, and it was decided that it would be more beneficial to try to construct an entirely new swine unit.

Once the project is completed in May 2016, it will have a price tag of roughly $6.9 million. One of the donors that really stands out on this project is the State of South Dakota. Gov. Dennis Daugaard and the state legislature who approved $2 million to be donated to the swine unit. Many regional donors also got involved with the project. Not only did the South Dakota Pork Producers donate, but also the Minnesota Pork Producers, Iowa Pork Producers and the Pipestone Vet Clinic. The South Dakota Soybean Research and Promotion Council gave monetary gifts along with the Hutterite colonies of South Dakota. Joining in the efforts were many other allied industry members.


All of the old buildings on the site have been torn down, but the site currently has a sow barn, which houses a 60-crate gestation room, two 12-crate farrowing rooms and two 14-pen nurseries. Right now there are only 60 to 70 sows on site. The new facility will be able to hold 150 sows onsite. 

The unit will be able to handle the pigs from conception to finish. During these stages, research can be conducted the entire time. There will be three buildings, two of which are on campus and one located 10 miles south of Brookings on Interstate-29 at Exit 121. 

In addition, the unit is working with a 1,200-head commercial barn and retrofitting it to do research. This commercial barn will allow researchers to take their findings from the small-scale scenarios to large-scale operations to see if they get similar results.

One of the new buildings will feature a classroom very similar to the one at the cow/calf unit, but one unique feature of the swine unit will be a glass hallway. Here, visitors can come in and view some of the work being done in the facility through a hallway of large windows, without breaking the biosecurity rules of the facility.

“The people that don’t understand pork production assume that you are hiding something and it’s not… So one of the goals of that swine unit is if people have questions can come in and take a look,” Thaler said.


Cassady believes that the new facilities will help the university and his department build stronger relationships with stakeholders and potential future employers. He also said he believes the new facilities will benefit the recruitment efforts of the animal science department.

“I think we will attract more students to the program… I’ve been the department head for two years, and [enrollment has] been increasing five percent each year,” Cassady said. “Prior to that, the department doubled in size over the last 12 years. I really don’t see any indication of that changing and so I do think these facilities are going to attract more students and provide a better environment for our students to learn in.”