Time for an upgrade

Erin Beck

Technology is the icon of the modern age and it’s left its mark in the swine department at SDSU. The Swine Unit has been outpaced by significant changes in the swine industry, with its last update occurring in 1991. Dr. Bob Thaler, professor and extension swine specialist, voices the need for change.

According to Thaler, the goal is to create facilities that are more in touch with today’s industry. A new Swine Unit will be built where the current facilities are located.

Thaler says that SDSU intends to build a sow and teaching/research complex as well as a wean-to-finish complex. The idea is to create excellent, up-to-date research facilities and learning experiences for students as well as make it open to the public.

The Dean of Agriculture and Biological Sciences, Barry Dunn, agrees with the need to “de-mystify pork production.”

“A lot of people don’t understand pork production, and what they don’t know they’re afraid of,” Thaler said.  According to Thaler, the new Swine Unit will have big glass windows enabling people to view pork production and demonstrating how and why livestock are raised.

Video cameras will document the life cycle of the pigs. This will allow elementary and high school students to gain a better understanding of pork production.

According to Thaler, another goal of the new Swine Unit is to gain more elbow room for expanding research. He said that the objective is to make pigs more efficient and producers more successful, mainly through producing more pounds of meat with fewer pounds of feed.

“A unique thing about SDSU is that it is still focused on production agriculture. Students come specifically to learn about [it]” Thaler said.

He believes the new facilities in the beef and swine departments will solidify that for even more for students.

Thaler also mentioned that funding has to come from private sources and donations; South Dakota will not provide any money for these new facilities.

Plans are for construction to begin in the spring of 2013.  Thaler said that the start-up date for construction will rely on how soon funding is received. However, he also said that promising preliminary designs have already been drawn up.

There is a great deal of support lying behind this project. Producers, commodity groups, and allied industries are all interested in seeing the new Swine Unit go up.

“We see huge potential for the growth of the swine industry in South Dakota,” Thaler said.

According to Thaler, students are excited about the developments taking place. They are looking forward to the modern facilities that will be more applicable to their operations at home.

“I think it’s going to be a really interactive place for students,” said Kaycee Gebhart, president of the Swine Club. “It will be a better learning tool than learning out of books.”

Thaler feels that the new unit will have a lot to offer to both students and the public.

“If you don’t dream big, it’ll never happen,” Thaler said.