Business ventures succeed or fail based on proper timing, among other factors. When the right forces converge, it's time to make a move.
In 1990, Henry Moore III was attending college, studying to be a commercial pilot, when his father, Henry Moore Jr., an aerial applicator, spurred his interest in farming their land near Clinton, NC. The North Carolina hog industry was beginning to boom, and Henry Jr., thought they could boom right along with it.
The aerial application business would never support three families, Henry Jr. explained. A hog farm probably could. They talked with Moore's high school friend, Alan Williams, who had worked with them in summers. The young men agreed and switched majors to swine husbandry at North Carolina State University.
After graduation, both moved home and began overseeing construction of the 2,400-sow, farrow-to-wean farm under contract with Carroll Foods. The farm was named Bobcat Farms, using Henry Jr.'s nickname, Bobcat.
They farrowed their first pigs in 1994. Two years later, they expanded to 4,800 sows, a level they currently maintain. Williams manages all aspects of production, the “inside” of the farm, while Moore manages the “outside,” including finances, environmental concerns and the cattle herd.
“The hog industry grew fast, and we were right in the perfect spot, kind of by accident,” Moore says.
In 1997, they added an 8,800-head contract finishing barn, adjacent to the sow farm.
Smithfield Foods' purchase of Carroll Foods in 1999 transferred contract production without a hitch, but the Moores and Williams yearned for more independence and opportunity.
In 2003, as contracts expired, the Moores and Williams joined several growers to form Coastal Plains Pork, a 27,000-sow, farrow-to-wean operation. The pigs are finished in the Midwest and purchased by Tyson Foods.
“We partnered with other family farms here in North Carolina and in Iowa, including Pro Pork, to make this new business a success. From our first meeting to discuss our business strategy, we all agreed that raising a high-quality weaned pig was our specialty. We wanted to get our pigs to the Midwest where finishing pigs was their specialty, corn was cheaper and shackle space more plentiful,” Moore explains.
Many local producers considered it a very risky and costly move, yet they were glad to see what family farms were attempting to accomplish by forming Coastal Plains Pork. “We were encouraged by many of our fellow producers, which gave us even more incentive to succeed,” he says.
“It had never been done — sow farms joining together and leaving the security of an integrator, attempting such a risky and costly transition. I wouldn't call us pioneers, but we were certainly some of the first sow farms to join and work together to accomplish this in North Carolina,” he continues.
“We did the right thing. Ultimately, we make all the decisions now. The farms involved in Coastal Plains Pork own it together, and everybody has an equal vote. It started out as a co-op and still runs very much like one, but is now a limited liability corporation.”
Today, the multiplier farm is in Arkansas. “Since all pigs are sent to the Midwest, we no longer need to finish animals at the 8,800-head facility. Now we bring all replacement gilts from Arkansas and develop them in the finishers. We supply all of the Coastal Plains farms with these gilts, plus do some breeding,” Moore says.
Like most big North Carolina hog farms, Bobcat Farms uses an anaerobic lagoon to manage manure. Shallow pits under each hog barn drain to the lagoon weekly. Nutrient levels are analyzed six times yearly.
An underground hydrant system and 4-in. reels apply the nutrients to corn, Coastal Bermuda grass hay, rye, oats and millet, which is fed to the beef cow herd. The cattle operation turns a profit largely because of the hog manure nutrients.
Based on nutrient samples, each 1,000 gal. of effluent carries approximately 2 lb. of nitrogen, saving more than $14,000 in fertilizer costs annually.
“We're recycling and reusing what a lot of people classify as waste. It is not waste; it is nutrients that we need to raise our crops and save money on petroleum-based fertilizers,” Moore says.
“It's as much of a closed system as anybody could ask for. We haven't bought commercial fertilizer, with the exception of lime and potash, for years,” he adds.
Located in an area hit all too often by hurricanes, lagoon management is key.
“We operate well below the 24-hour, 24-year storm level. There's plenty of freeboard. There's not a good reason this lagoon shouldn't be in a position to handle 25 in. of rain,” he says.
“We're required to maintain 19 in. of freeboard, but we do a lot more than that. The idea is that we never have to go into hurry-up mode.”
Water remains an important issue at Bobcat Farms, where sandy soils soak it up quickly, and drought hits hard.
They've reduced water usage in the hog barns by more than 10 million gal./year by replacing a trough watering system with nipple drinkers, among other things.
“Our target is 7.2 gal. of water/sow/day. For the last six months, we've been 20% below that target. We also use recycled water in the pits instead of fresh water, and we installed cool cells to eliminate the use of foggers and misters. That saves groundwater and keeps animals more comfortable. Over the entire farm, we're saving more than 30,000 gal. of water a day,” Moore says.
Located 2½ miles from the closest highway and 3 miles from the nearest residence, Bobcat Farms seems isolated, surrounded by dense forests providing a haven for wildlife.
“There's no odor problem here. We often say that if you smell our farm, you are trespassing. It's that simple,” Moore says.
And, if you love wildlife and the outdoors, you'd love it here.
“Hunting and fishing are significant to us; we work hard on wildlife habitat. There is a cost to it, but it's important. We enjoy bringing people here at certain times of year and having coveys of quail fly up in front of them. We have deer, rabbits, ducks, quail, wild turkeys and many other wild animals,” he says.
They have participated in a duck release program, plant food plots and nesting structures for all of the wild animals. There are two impoundments that are planted and flooded for the wild ducks' winter habitat. Walk the fringes here and you can see a couple dozen wood duck boxes along creeks. Bluebird boxes are everywhere.
“We do everything we can for wildlife,” Moore continues. “A big portion of our corn crop is never harvested and is left for wildlife. We have a good turkey population that has increased in the past four years; we planted 50 to 60 saw tooth oaks for them.
“In fact, other than killing an occasional monster buck and a few for management or table fare, and an annual dove hunt, we don't really hunt much at all. We plant over 100 acres of food plots and put up feeders for them. We manage the 2,000 acres adjoining us for large and small game for an absentee owner, which helps the wildlife on our land as well.”
Keep Up Appearances
Visit Bobcat Farms and you'll probably see someone mowing or cleaning up outside the buildings. Three employees are hired during warm weather months for that purpose only. In the hog business, appearances count for a lot, Moore says.
“Alan and I had a high school football coach who drilled into us, ‘You play like you practice.’ We have that philosophy in everything we do,” he continues. “We do our very best to keep the farm clean and manicured so when we take visitors on tours they like what they see. We are located only six miles from our Coastal Plains office so many of our out-of-state visitors interested in the hog industry inevitably end up here.”
Moore represents the hog industry, speaking to civic groups, town meetings and school groups. Participating in the Pork Checkoff's Pork Leadership Academy and Operation Main Street program helped prepare him to answer questions on hot-button issues.
“A lot of people don't realize how important the pork industry is in our area, so I welcome the chance to speak to groups and tell them our story.”
Moore's father, Henry Jr., concentrates on his aerial application business. Williams manages the sow farm, and Devon Bullard oversees the gilt developer. Moore oversees the overall management of the farm and serves as the farm's representative for the Coastal Plains Pork board of directors.
“It's been an interesting and challenging business. The ability to work with family and good friends has been very rewarding. Every week we put our heads together to solve problems and create new opportunities,” Henry says.