Corey Carpenter was 15 years old when his grandfather took him to the local Farm Services Agency to get a loan for his show pig business. The Red Bluff, Calif., native had spent every moment outside of school feeding pigs, scraping pens and working in the hog barn, so it seemed a logical next step to take ownership of some sows and begin raising show pigs for the local 4-H and FFA communities.
Hoping to "make his own gig of it" at the time, Carpenter says he soon realized the experience taught him so much more. "Many of us know how big the feed costs or the feed input portion of day-to-day operations are, and so that is kind of what sparked my interest in swine feeding and nutrition, so to speak."
That spark has led Carpenter on an educational quest in commercial swine nutrition, from California State University-Chico and Oklahoma State University to Kansas State University and the University of Minnesota over the last 11 years. With an associate degree in animal science, a bachelor's degree in animal science, two master's in swine nutrition and a full-time position as an account manager and swine specialist at Zinpro, Carpenter still hasn't hung up his backpack. The 29-year-old is pursuing a doctorate in swine nutrition at U-M.
Pedro Urriola, research assistant professor at the U-M Department of Veterinary Population Medicine, says the university has "many good students that are committed to make the pork industry stronger," but it is Carpenter’s "passion for research and professional improvement" that makes him a rising star in the U.S. swine industry.
Right people, right time
When Carpenter headed off to Modesto Junior College in 2011 and then CSU in 2013, he knew he wanted to study animal science, but was teetering between an emphasis in nutrition or veterinary medicine. It wasn't until his junior year, after attending a National Junior Swine Association leadership conference at OSU, that Carpenter realized swine nutrition was his passion.
"I was introduced to Kyle Coble - who is now in the industry as a swine nutritionist for JBS USA - but he introduced me to the right people at Oklahoma State and kind of fast-tracked me into a nutrition program there, working for Dr. [Scott] Carter," Carpenter says.
Carpenter served as a graduate research and teaching assistant as well as a coordinator for the OSU Swine Teaching and Research Center.
While he enjoyed teaching undergraduates, his favorite part of the master's program was the research.
"It gave me an appreciation for helping me identify what kind of a path I wanted to choose, whether that was private industry or whether that was academia," Carpenter says. "The other thing is that it helped me develop a skill set for conducting research."
Carpenter helped manage and execute a number of research trials at OSU, including his primary research, "The Effects of Dietary Energy Strategies on Growth Performance and Carcass Characteristics of Finishing Pigs."
Testing trace minerals
After graduating with a master's in swine nutrition and teaching in 2015, it was Coble again who nudged Carpenter to continue his studies, this time at K-State.
"My time there is really what allowed me to develop my skill set and start forming my own nutrition research and building my nutritional skill set, if you will, or my foundations of being a swine nutritionist were really developed," Carpenter says.
His research focus at K-State was dedicated to trace mineral supplementation, specifically looking at alternative sources of inorganic and organic copper or inorganic zinc for early nursery and finishing pigs.
One of the highlights for Carpenter during that time was working with his mentors, including Joel DeRouchey and Jason Woodworth, professors from K-State; as well as James Usry, who was with Micronutrients Inc. at the time and is now principal managing partner at Ani-Tek LLC; and Zach Rambo, U.S. swine manager with Zinpro.
"They were fundamental mentors of mine throughout my graduate career and [I] still keep close, consistent contact with them today," Carpenter says.
Carpenter now reports to Rambo and says he is one of the reasons he chose to work at Zinpro following the completion of his master's degree in applied swine nutrition and management from K-State in 2017.
As a swine specialist for Zinpro, Carpenter provides sales and technical support to the trace mineral nutrition firm's existing customer base and prospects. His focal point each day is helping customers become more profitable in their operations — which, since the COVID-19 pandemic supply chain disruptions, often means helping producers be more strategic with how they implement ingredients in order to keep costs down.
Carpenter says he has also been fortunate to work in Zinpro's specialty product division on product development, from nutritional supplements delivered in drinking water to biosecurity-related products. No matter what the new technology is, Carpenter says he strives to develop solutions for producers that are applicable, relevant and add to their bottom line.
"Developing technologies that meet those three criteria is probably the biggest challenge from day to day, because you can have something that meets one or two of those criteria pretty well, but getting all three of them — that is definitely a challenge," Carpenter says.
Regardless, Carpenter says he has enjoyed his time in his new profession and the successes he has had thus far, from helping farms decrease their sow mortality rate through nutritional consulting and problem-solving to developing solutions that reduce vice and aggressive behavior in herds.
Pursuing a Ph.D.
In September 2017, after the Allen D. Leman Swine Conference and meeting Urriola, Carpenter considered pursuing a doctorate at U-M in conjunction with his professional career at Zinpro.
"We struck up conversation and didn't really know each other much before that point in time, but he's a large part of the reason why I'm now at the University of Minnesota from a research program standpoint," he says.
Carpenter began his doctoral studies in spring 2019. He is specifically examining how to provide trace minerals to help growing pigs move through disease challenges and disease acclimation periods in a robust fashion, where they can still go on and be more profitable market hogs or replacement females. He hopes to complete his Ph.D. in fall 2022.
Family and future
Carpenter gives credit to his wife, Kristi, for being so supportive of his educational pursuits and professional development goals. The couple welcomed their first child, Quincy, on July 6.
Where does Carpenter see himself in five to 10 years? He says hopefully, not too far from where he is now.
"What gets me up in the morning every day is there is an opportunity to help our customers and help our producers become better at what they do, and that's produce pigs and feed the world," Carpenter says. "As long as that opportunity is there, that's really what I strive for on a day-to-day basis, contributing, serving and helping those entities that give us our safe and wholesome food supply."