Looking to the future
The new beef and sheep complex will include four cattle barns, a sheep barn, an office building and facilities for mixing feed and storing machinery. Dan Faulkner, professor of animal sciences and UI Extension beef specialist, said the new facilities provide researchers the tools to evaluate "the potential market for beef produced with no hormones and antibiotics and the best nutrition and management plans for that production."
Photo by Bill Wiegand
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The UI marked the inception of an ambitious six-phase, multiyear plan to modernize the South Farms with a groundbreaking ceremony Aug. 26.
University officials broke ground for the construction of a new beef and sheep complex near the intersection of Race Street and Old Church Road, between Urbana and Savoy. The $10 million complex will include four cattle barns, a sheep barn, an office building and facilities for mixing feed and storing machinery.
The beef unit will accommodate about 650-700 cattle and the new sheep facility about 15 to 20 yearling ewes and 50 lambs, approximately the same numbers as the old South Farms. The animals are used in research and teaching in animal husbandry, livestock judging and production.
The current farm facilities, which date back to the early 1900s, were the site of breakthrough research in animal nutrition, confinement production and diseases such as spider lamb syndrome, a skeletal abnormality in sheep.
However, the nearly century-old structures no longer support the needs of state-of-the-art science, and the enhanced research capabilities of the new facilities will establish an interdisciplinary research continuum among scientists in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences and the Institute for Genomic Biology, said Robert Easter, dean of the college.
“We expect to see real opportunities emerge from IBG to improve agricultural plants and animals, both through biotechnology and classical genetics,” Easter said. “But the value of these crops and these animals for society and Illinois’ economy cannot be realized until they are tested under field conditions and appropriate agronomic production practices developed.”
UI President James J. Stukel said that although the university is very proud of its roots in the agrarian land-grant movement of the mid-19th century, it must also move ahead with new initiatives. Stukel credited Chancellor Nancy Cantor with bringing the project to fruition during a difficult budget year after the plans had been in the works for a generation.
“We want the scientists and the teachers of ACES to be connected to all that is going on in the biological revolution and technological revolution on campus and elsewhere,” Cantor said. “And we want the work in the field to be connected to the citizens of Illinois, the commodities groups through Extension and all that we do as we go from farm to fork.”
With the global demand for meat, milk and eggs at unprecedented high levels, the new facilities will enable UI researchers to address such issues as enhancing food production and sustainable agriculture, Easter said. Researchers also will examine the efficacy of using genetically modified crops as animal feed, develop enzymatic feed supplements and look for ways to help producers meet market demand for high-quality beef and a growing demand for lamb.
“Among the things we’ll be looking at in the future is evaluating the potential market for beef produced with no hormones and antibiotics and the best nutrition and management plans for that production,” said Dan Faulkner, professor of animal sciences and UI Extension beef specialist. “We’re shifting our focus to a more natural beef product. There’s not a particularly large market for that product now, but we think there might be in the future, especially if ways can be found to produce that kind of beef economically.”
The new facilities will contain features such as a computerized feeding system that will enable researchers to collect precise data on individual animals’ consumption and help determine how specific feeds affect growth rates.
The barns also will employ a revolutionary waste-management system designed to minimize odor. Water flowing underneath the barns’ slotted floors will capture animal waste and convey it to a covered holding system that will separate the liquids and solids. The liquids will be injected directly into the soil while the solid waste will be composted and used in research projects or sold to area landscapers.
The system will eliminate the need for spreading or spraying waste and help minimize odor that might affect nearby residents.
While all the waste system’s components are in use currently, the beef/sheep unit will be the first facility that integrates them. The system also will be adaptable to advances in waste and odor-management technology, Faulkner said.
The initial phase of the South Farms Modernization Project, including land acquisition and infrastructure, will cost about $23.7 million. The UI Board of Trustees awarded contracts for the first phase of construction and approved issuing revenue bonds to finance it at its July meeting.
The beef-sheep complex is scheduled for completion in about a year, when the livestock will be moved from the current farms south of St. Mary’s Road and the buildings there demolished so that the Research Park can be expanded.
UI also is considering a cooperative sheep research and breeding program with Illinois State University. If the agreement is finalized, the UI would send 40 to 45 breeding ewes to ISU’s farm in Lexington and receive 15 to 20 yearling ewes from the flock each fall and spring for instructional use.