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Beef/Sheep Unit launches modernization at U of I South Farms     Send a link to a friend

[AUG. 13, 2003]  URBANA -- A groundbreaking ceremony on Aug. 26 will launch a new University of Illinois research facility that promises to have a major impact on the state's agricultural economy. The $10 million Beef/Sheep Unit is the first phase of the U of I College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences South Farms Modernization Project.

The groundbreaking ceremony will take place at 10 a.m. under a tent near the intersection of Race Street and Old Church Road southeast of the U of I campus. The ceremony is open to the public.

Robert A. Easter, dean of the College of ACES, noted that the new facility, when completed, will enhance the significant opportunities existing for expansion of the beef industry in Illinois. This, he noted, will benefit not only beef producers but their local communities and the Illinois economy.

"Illinois is a beef deficit state. Eighty percent of the beef consumed here is imported from other states," he said. "Producing more beef here will not only keep those dollars in the state's economy but also allow us to more fully utilize the byproducts of ethanol production.

"There is tremendous potential for Illinois corn producers in the use of their crops in ethanol production and, in turn, feeding byproducts of that process to Illinois beef cattle."

Neal Merchen, head of the Department of Animal Sciences in the College of ACES, said the new unit will help constitute a research continuum from the cutting-edge efforts in the Institute of Genomic Biology (formerly the Post Genomic Institute) to studies that apply these findings in the field.

"Genetically modified traits can be put to the test in trials at the new Beef/Sheep Unit," he said. "For instance, we will have projects involving the efficacy of genetically modified corn and other crops in beef cattle diets."

The new unit is part of Phase One of the South Farms Modernization Project, which will have six phases. Phase One, which includes the Beef/Sheep Unit, infrastructure (sewers, roads and water) and land acquisition, carries a total price tag of $23.7 million. Under the modernization project, the current South Farms facilities will move to new ground and facilities south of their present location.

About 650-700 animals will be housed in the new unit's beef buildings. Those buildings will feature a state-of-the-art manure management system that prevents the waste products from being exposed to the atmosphere, severely curtailing -- if not eliminating -- odor.

"Many of the buildings used for livestock research today at the U of I date back to the early 1900s and do not lend themselves to many modern management practices or research using the latest technologies," said Merchen. "The existing facilities, though they have a distinguished history of accomplishment, have outlived their usefulness in meeting modern needs."


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Since the initiation of livestock research at the present South Farms in the early years of the 20th century, a number of major breakthroughs have been made by U of I personnel. In the beef cattle area, for example, the first research on the use of corn silage as feed was conducted. The first standards for beef cattle maintenance were established based upon work at the South Farms, and over the years nutritional research has resulted in better beef products for consumers.

"In recent years, beef research success stories have included utilization of byproducts in feed and the development of an early weaning management system that completely changed the paradigm of beef cattle production," said Merchen. "The early weaning system has significantly improved the quality of market animals.

"In the future, we may be able to look back and say that research conducted in the new facility enabled Illinois corn and soybean production to become more sustainable economically and environmentally. Achieving that will also allow the overall agricultural economy and the community systems around it to remain viable and sustainable."

While sheep research at the U of I has also made significant breakthroughs in the past, including finding a reliable test to predict the occurrence of spider lamb syndrome, the 50 market lambs and 15 to 20 yearling ewes housed in the new Beef/Sheep Unit will be used primarily for teaching.

The yearling ewes, which will be provided by a cooperative U of I and Illinois State University program, will graze on the new facility's pastureland and be visible to passersby, said A. Richard Cobb, U of I Extension sheep specialist.

"The new sheep building replaces a facility constructed in 1915," he said. "The new facility will be better and, in the future, would allow for feeding studies on sheep."

Merchen said public funding for the new unit represents a commitment by the people of Illinois to the state's future.

"It is also recognition of the important role livestock plays in the state's agricultural economy," he said. "And support for this facility demonstrates a confidence that university research will continue to perform its vital role in our society."

 [University of Illinois news release]  

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