Nicknamed ‘hog hotels’, they are built up to 13 storeys high and can house around 1,000 pigs per floor, and are being constructed on Yaji Mountain in southern China.
The buildings are being erected by privately owned agricultural company Guangxi Yangxiang Co Ltd. So far they have built two seven-floor operations and there are plans to put up four more, one of which will have up to 13 floors, making it the tallest building of its kind in the world.
Similar operations have been tried in Europe. While some are still running, many of the attempted vertical farms have been abandoned due to difficulties with management and of negative public opinion towards large farms.
But China is determined to pull ahead of the rest of the world, industrialising one of the globe’s biggest herd of pigs as part of an ongoing effort to modernise its farms and create wealth in rural areas, as well as continuing to feed its hungry population.
China eats more meat than any other country. The population will eat 74 million tonnes of pork, poultry and beef annually – twice as much as the US. More than half of that is pork, and farmers have started developing methods, such as the high rise farms, to keep up with demand.
Xu Jiajing, manager of Yangxiang’s mountain-top farm, says: “There are big advantages to a high-rise building. It saves energy and resources. The land area is not that much but you can raise a lot of pigs.”
The farms aren’t without risk. The likelihood of spread of disease spreading in such close quarters is great, as farm manager Xu knows. Yangxiang reduces this by running each floor separately, with no staff movement between level and new pigs quarantined before being introduced to the building.
There’s also the fact that pork prices in China are at an eight-year low. Farms like Yangxiang are pumping money into their enterprises, which cost around 30% more than an ordinary farm, despite this price lull.
This isn’t stopping farms from trying, however. “We see an increasing demand for two- or three-level buildings,” says Peter van Issum, the managing director of Microfan, a Dutch supplier that designed the ventilation system at Yangxiang.
‘”The higher ones are still an exception, but the future might change rapidly,” he says.
If the farm is a success and expands as planned, it will house 30,000 pigs and produce around 840,000 piglets every year. This would make it the biggest, most intensive-breeding farm in the world – an average large Chinese pig farm would contain only around 8,000 pigs.