December 1997 // Volume 35 // Number 6 // Ideas at Work // 6IAW2

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North Carolina Swine Evaluation Station: Adapting to Meet the Needs of a Rapidly Changing Industry

To meet current and future demands for information needed by specialized and technically advanced pork producers the focus of the North Carolina Swine Evaluation Station was changed. The new program was designed to assist in the definition of production potential and goals, development of least-cost feeding and management strategies, and to provide a rapid response to identified research needs. Data collected on growth performance, carcass merit, and economics have been used to develop mathematical models to help identify and meet production and financial goals while emphasizing the production of a healthy pork product that is desirable to the consumer.

M. Todd See
Assistant Professor and Extension Swine Specialist
North Carolina State University
Raleigh, North Carolina
Internet Address:


The North Carolina Swine Evaluation Station, like many across the country, has been an important Extension program and continues to play a role in both performance testing and producer education. The facility was the site of progeny tests of l,728 litters in the 1960s and nearly 7,000 performance tested boars were evaluated from 1973 to 1994.

The goals of the boar testing program were: (a) animal testing; (b) sell boars; (c) education of commercial and seedstock producers; (d) source of unbiased bench-mark data; and (e) focal point for the swine industry. The boar testing program was discontinued as no longer feasible due to structural changes in the North Carolina swine industry, perceived health hazards, and declining numbers of seedstock producers.

Structural change and industrialization of the pork industry is occurring across the United States. North Carolina has grown from the 12th largest hog producing state in 1970 to the 2nd largest. The growth and prominence of North Carolina's pork industry is no accident. Innovative firms utilizing cutting edge technology to capture production and marketing efficiency have undergone rapid growth in recent years. North Carolina is headquarters to 15 of the "mega" producers that control between 10,000 and 360,000 sows each. Mega producers account for over 12% of the United States sow herd and are estimated to account for more than 75% of North Carolina production.

The U.S. Census of Agriculture has reported that between 1969 and 1992 producers selling fewer than 1,000 hogs annually declined by 73% and those selling more than 1,000 head annually increased by 320%. Trends also show small annual increases in hog inventory combined with annual decreases in farm operations with hogs. These national trends have been magnified in North Carolina farms. Pork production has increased 220% since the mid-1980s, with a simultaneous decrease of 50% in number of farms with hogs.

Not only are swine farm demographics changing, but the pork industry is also becoming more knowledge-based and consumer- oriented. In addition, producers are trying to create high productivity production systems with low variance that coordinate all facets of production so overall production is optimized. This includes the coordination of throughput, health, genetics, facilities, nutrition, and management.

In order to meet the current and future demands for up-to- date technical information needed by these specialized and technically advanced pork producers, the focus of the Swine Evaluation Station has changed. However, the goals of animal testing, producer education, source of unbiased information, and a program that can be a focal point for the industry have remained. The new program was designed to assist in the definition of production potential and goals, development of least-cost feeding and management strategies based on production economics, and to provide a rapid response to identified research needs.


Program funding comes from three sources. The North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service and North Carolina Agricultural Research Service provide salaries for principal investigators and technicians who conduct the trials, analyze data, report results, and care for animals. For each trial a specific Memorandum of Agreement between NCSU and the sponsor is developed. Participation as a sponsor is open to any North Carolina pork producer or agribusiness that supports the state's pork industry. The sponsor(s) typically provide the animals, animal hauling, feed, production costs beyond labor, and support for research protocols. Research protocols may include procedures like real- time ultrasound, chemical analysis, or minor surgery. The sponsor retains ownership of the animals and receives all market receipts. Sponsors are provided with the data and a written report prior to public release.


The Swine Evaluation Station is ideally suited for testing animals representatives of a particular commercial program as well as unique genotypes without compromising health security standards set forth in other NCSU-operated swine facilities. This well-isolated facility is operated on an all in-all out basis. The physical structure consists of 99 pens with solid concrete floors that measure 5'x12'. Modifications to the facility to conduct this program included individual stainless steel feeders for each pen, the addition of three electronic scales for measuring feed intake, six additional bulk feed bins that brought the total number of diets that can be handled to eight, loading chutes to accommodate transfer trucks, and an expanded parking area.

Projects are proposed and scheduled based on needs and priorities set forth by an advisory committee. Individual trials are designed by NCSU specialists and researchers in cooperation with the producer and/or agribusiness sponsor. A research protocol is developed as part of the Memorandum of Agreement and approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.

Of critical importance to the program's success is the ability to measure and evaluate pigs beyond what can be done in commercial production. Of primary importance is the fact that this facility was designed to accurately measure feed intake on a pen basis. In addition, we are able to manufacture, handle, and feed multiple diets that are not of standard formulation. Access to NCSU resources and personnel also allows the application of intensive research protocols to monitor and evaluate animal growth.


The Swine Evaluation Station's research and education program has been able to provide rapid response to North Carolina producers by addressing their needs in a timely manner. In one example, a research need was identified by a group of producers and project design, Memorandum of Agreement processing, delivery of animals, and project initiation was completed in 83 days.

Collected data on growth performance, carcass merit, and economics have been used in the development of mathematical models to help identify and meet production and financial goals. Previous, current, and future projects will describe methods for investigating interactions between genetics, nutrition, and management, while emphasizing the production of a healthy pork product desirable to the consumer.