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Swine Stink, but Soon Maybe Not as Bad


It's a good thing you're not hearing about today's subject from one of those children's "scratch-'n'-sniff" books, where you can scratch on a picture and learn what various objects smell like.

You see, we're going to talk swine odor! If you've ever lived near, or even driven past, a hog farm -- or had a pig farmer friend -- you know that hogs and their waste smell really, really bad!

Now, most American pig farms used to be pretty far out in the country. So there weren't too many complaints. But suburban sprawl into the countryside -- and the growing size of corporate livestock operations -- are increasingly bringing people and pigs into proximity.

So the Swine Odor and Manure Management Research Unit -- that's right, the Swine Odor and Manure Management Research Unit -- part of the U.S. government's Agricultural Research Service -- is looking hard at the pig odor problem. And mostly, it's looking inside the pig!

Nutritionists at the Swine and Manure Unit, working in the heart of hog country at Iowa State University, are trying to come up with diets that will lessen the odor-causing compounds that stink up pig waste. Breath mints and a good bath won't do the job. The aim is to reduce smelly ingredients like ammonia, which comes from nitrogen compounds in soybean meal. U.S. farmers feed their pigs a LOT of soybean meal. So the researchers are experimenting with feed mixtures containing crystalline amino acids, which don't produce as much nitrogen. Another strategy involves finding new fibers that hogs can better digest. Undigested fiber accounts for a lot of the foul odor in pig waste!

Certainly the people buying those new condominiums next to pig farms wish the researchers well. So do the owners of condominium apartment complexes going up in hog country.