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Friday, February 24, 2012

Mysterious Exploding Pig Farms

Mysterious Foam Causing Hog Farms to Explode, Killing Thousands of Pigs

Mysterious Foam Causing Hog Farms to Explode, Killing Thousands of Pigs

A mysterious foam is now causing hog farms in the Midwest to explode, killing thousands of pigs and injuring workers. 

A few years ago, hog farmers throughout the Midwest noticed foam building on top of their manure pits. Soon after, barns began exploding, killing thousands of hogs while farmers lost millions of dollars.

Researchers Trying to Solve Hog Farm Mystery   

Researchers at the University at Minnesota are trying to unravel a mystery that's plaguing hog farms.
Over the last few years, foam on manure pits has caused barns to explode, killing thousands of hogs and causing millions of dollars in damage. The foam traps gases like methane, and when a spark ignites, it can create an explosion.

Researchers at the university are trying to determine how bacteria develops in a manure pit and find a fix for the foam. Pork production is a billion dollar industry in Minnesota.

In 2007 Rolling Stone published a devastating investigative piece on pig factory farms in the United States that made Upton Sinclair's The Jungle look like a pamphlet for Omaha Steaks. How devastating? Since reading it I am still barely able to consume pork products unless they're on some Williamsburg/Portlandia tip where the waiter is like, "This bacon comes from a pig named Steve that was raised on a farm one hour outside of Albany and fed on a diet of organic Georgia green grass." Unless I'm drunk or hung over, in which case I'll eat the dirtiest of dirty bodega bacon.

In the article, journalist Jeff Tietz detailed how these factory farms employed vile and unsanitary methods that resulted in large amounts of toxic waste being produced, effectively creating a bio-hazard for any living thing within miles. One would think that after such a thorough piece the industry would reform these heinous practices. One would be wrong.
Minnesota Daily reports that the foam forms on the top of manure pits and traps gases like methane, which accidentally ignites and then, well, you're in some deep shit. It's happened to nearly half a dozen barns in the Midwest in the past few years, and now researchers at the University of Minnesota are trying to get to the bottom of it.
It is said that nature abhors a vacuum. Well, according to this report from the Minnesota Daily, nature also abhors factory farms. Large midwestern hog farms have for the last few years been battling a mysterious foam that is forming on top of their barns. In the worst case scenarios, the foam blocks ventilation ducts and the barns explode — yes, explode — killing the thousands of hogs inside. The report reads:
The foam traps gases like methane and when a spark ignites it causes an explosion. About a half dozen barns in the Midwest have exploded since the foam was discovered in 2009.
In mid-September 2011, a barn in Iowa was added to the growing number of barns taken down by the foam. In the explosion, 1,500 pigs were lost, and one worker was injured.

In mid-September 2011, a barn in Iowa was added to the growing number of barns taken down by the foam. In the explosion, 1,500 pigs were lost, and one worker was injured.
Not only does the foam cause explosions but it also reduces manure storage volume and dirties the hogs.
The foam can reach heights of 4 feet. Farmers are encouraged to knock it down with water.
The researchers conduct their studies on commercial farms in Minnesota and surrounding states. Chuck Clanton, a bioproducts and biosystems engineering professor, said the team’s current approach is targeting how different microorganisms — primarily bacteria — developed in the manure pit. They think that a new set of species has formed in these pits in the last few years.
Larry Jacobson, another professor in the department, and his team haven’t found a solution for the foam but have discovered ways to curb its growth.
“We’re treating the symptoms but not getting to the cause,” he said.
The researchers still aren’t sure what causes the foam. But they have noticed a correlation between adding dried distillers grains in soluble — a product of the ethanol production process increasingly used in livestock diets — to the hogs’ diets and the foam, although that solution is too simplistic, Jacobson said.

The cause of the foam is still unknown, although there are indications that the source may be new species of bacteria that have evolved in the barns’ manure pits — in many hog barns the manure is stored underneath the barn before transfer to those notorious manure lagoons.

[pic via AP, article via Grist]

Contributing sources:

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