This Home Costs $5 Million, but It's Still a Pigsty; University of Georgia Swine Will Be Getting New, High-Tech Digs Thanks to State Money

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ATHENS -- The hardest part of designing a research-sized pigpen is keeping pregnant sows from fighting each other.

Gestating sows, if they are housed in groups -- more humane than housing them in small, separate pens -- will fight each other as part of their natural instincts to survive, said Rick Jones, University of Georgia animal and dairy science project coordinator.

"They are big animals and can do a lot of damage to each other," Jones said.

The university received $5 million in state money to build a new, high-tech livestock facility on the western edge of Oglethorpe County to replace its dilapidated facilities on South Milledge Avenue.

University System of Georgia facility officials will post a request for proposals for a designer within a week, said system spokesman John Millsaps.

As part of the Animal and Dairy Science Department's rebuilding efforts, Jones spent his summer visiting university swine facilities across the country to find successful methods for balancing the animals' health and living conditions.

"It's tricky -- nobody's found a patent answer," he said. "Animal care is a big issue, and it's a complicated issue."

Robert Stewart said it all began in October 2002, when country singer Kenny Rogers, after 15 years of leasing his Oglethorpe County land to Georgia for some of its horses, gave a 30-day notice to vacate because he was going to sell.

Since then, the South Milledge animal facilities that house sheep, swine, horses and cattle have been crowded and lack the space to house the smallest herd needed for research, said Stewart, an animal and dairy science extension coordinator and emeritus professor.

Animal-science faculty use the swine facility to study how to better balance pork production, odor control and waste management.

Two swine units are dilapidated, pushing planners to begin the move to Double Bridges Farm with the new swine facility, he said.

Preserving greenspace in mostly rural but developing Oglethorpe County is another benefit of moving the livestock operations there, Jones said.

Agriculture college officials have worked with Oglethorpe County planners on the project and, in a few weeks, will request a rezoning for Double Bridges Farm from general agriculture to intensive agriculture, said Steve Nickerson, head of Georgia's animal and dairy science department. …