September 25, 2019

Interpretive Summary: Life cycle assessment of alternative swine management practices

Interpretive Summary: Life cycle assessment of alternative swine management practices 

By: Dr. Caitlin Vonderohe 

Animal agriculture is facing increasing pressure from the general public to critically examine the sustainability of animal production as a global industry. Specifically, pork production is facing pressure from legislators, the general public, and other stakeholders to critically evaluate the sustainability of the industry. These same stakeholders, particularly the general public, are pushing the swine industry to adopt practices that they perceive will improve animal welfare. These management changes, however small, has the potential to have profound impacts on the interaction between swine production and the environment.

A recent paper published in the Journal of Animal Science, “Life cycle assessment of alternative swine management practices” by Bandekar et al., used a life cycle assessment to measure the impact of changing management practices on the sustainability of swine production. Life cycle assessments are valuable tools that allow a holistic examination of tradeoffs between inefficiencies in a production system and sustainability metrics. Bandekar et al., used the life cycle assessment to quantify differences in a multitude of swine management practices.

Models simulating the growth, energy, and feed consumption of nursery, grow/finish, and sow barns were developed for each management scenario. Data from the National Pork Board Taskforce and peer-reviewed literature regarding swine performance under different management situations were used.

In each of the scenarios, the major contributors to global warming potential were feed production and greenhouse gas emissions from manure storage. The removal of ractopamine from the grow/finish phase resulted in increases in global warming potential, primarily driven by reductions in swine performance, particularly average daily gain and feed efficiency. Similarly, removal of antimicrobials increased global warming potential by 1.56%, and energy use by 1.75%. The use of immunocastration instead of surgical castration reduced global warming potential by 2.96%, which was primarily driven improvements in growth and feed conversion in uncastrated pigs. The use of gestation pens decreased global warming potential, water, and energy use compared to individual stalls. This change was due to a smaller impact of temperature on energy requirements, leaving more energy for fetal development, and overall reducing feed intake and improving sow performance. Finally, split sex management to produce boars increased energy use but overall reduced global warming potential because of improved feed efficiency.

Animal-welfare centric management changes have highly variable impacts on the sustainability of swine production. On the one hand, the removal of ractopamine and antimicrobials increased the environmental impact of swine production; however, pen gestation and immunocastration reduced energy use and improved efficiency metrics. Therefore, management strategies should be critically examined for their holistic impact on production prior to mass implementation.

To view the full article, visit the Journal of Animal Science