Unique U graduate swine-study program celebrates 25 years

Joanna Dornfeld

The word “oink” might not mean much to you. Maybe “epidemiology” doesn’t either.

But over the past 25 years, University faculty and students have combined hogs from the St. Paul campus and the study of diseases into a nationally recognized graduate program on the study of swine.

The program, which celebrated its anniversary this week, is one of few programs in the nation to study live animals. The first of its kind anywhere in the country, it attracts veterinary students from around the globe to the University.

“This program has had an incredible impact in the United States,” said Bob Morrison, veterinary medicine professor in the swine group. “The teachers are graduates from our programs for the most part … We’ve taught the teachers, and the teachers teach the students around the world.

“It has become one of the places in the world to come and specialize in pig research,” Morrison said.

Allen D. Leman created the program in 1976, focusing on swine epidemiology, but now the center conducts research in several areas, such as antibiotics, reproduction and housing.

“Historically, it has focused on diseases,” said John Deen, professor of veterinary medicine. “It’s also looked at … the level of production on swine farms.”

Swine industry members from around the state look to the University for breakthroughs in research and the evolution of swine production.

“The Minnesota swine industry, including Minnesota veterinarians, give quite a bit of credit to the approach that was started in the swine group,” Deen said.

The graduate program also created a system called PigChamp that is used by the majority of swine producers, said Carlos Pijoan, University professor and director of the Swine Disease Eradication Center. The system kept farmers’ records from across the state, which were then shared for University research purposes.

But the system became so successful that it broke off from the University to become a for-profit organization. The program is still widely used.

The 27th annual Allen D. Leman Swine Conference was held last weekend in Minneapolis.

The conference draws swine industry members from around the world to discuss changes in swine production.

The conference is a way for the research community to share its findings with the swine industry and put the findings into practice, Morrison said.

“It’s one of our efforts on how we reach out,” he said.

 

Joanna Dornfeld welcomes comments at [email protected]