When Daniel Boykin graduated high school in 2008, he had his sights set on specializing in beef cattle veterinary medicine.
However, before he stepped foot on campus for his undergraduate education, a North Carolina State University livestock Extension agent persuaded Boykin to take an internship with The Hanor Co. at one of its nucleus farms on the eastern side of the state.
"It was a nice internship because I had never really been exposed to commercial swine production, and it offered the chance to spend time in the boar stud, in the sow farm, in the nursery and in the finisher," Boykin says. "That really gave a nice overview of all different phases of production, so to speak, in one summer."
Boykin's "out-of-the-classroom" exposure snowballed from there, with the young student taking eight more internships and seven externships over the course of his education, first at NCSU for his bachelor's in animal science and then at the NCSU College of Veterinary Medicine for his doctorate in veterinary medicine, with a food-animal focus.
He assessed the effectiveness of a swine dysentery control program with Randy Jones, Livestock Veterinary Services in Kinston, N.C., and completed a biosecurity assessment with Jeremy Pittman, Smithfield Foods.
Boykin characterized lesions of rejected pigs with Matt Turner, Prestage Farms in Clinton, N.C., and assessed semen motility characteristics during an internship with BRF in Brazil.
He took every free moment to connect off campus with industry members and continue his education. The internships and externships also solidified his interest in working in a commercial swine production system.
"On the veterinary side, the science, the epidemiology, the thought of population medicine, the concept of working for something greater in the sense of leading people and having a greater meaning than just going to work every day — you're doing it for a larger purpose of feeding a hungry world," Boykin says. "That's kind of always been a neat concept to me."
From team to lead
After obtaining his doctorate in veterinary medicine in May 2016, Boykin took that sense of purpose with him to his first job as a staff veterinarian for Christensen Farms in Sleepy Eye, Minn.
Working within a team of company veterinarians, and Mike Eisenmenger and Laura Dalquist from Swine Vet Center in St. Peter, Minn., Boykin spent time on various sow and wean-to-finish production sites finding ways to vaccinate, treat and manage health challenges as well as eliminate disease.
Two years into his career there, Boykin had no intentions of leaving. He had planted his roots in the North Star State and bought his first home — and then one day, he received a call.
It was from a Cactus Family Farms representative who said the firm was looking to hire its first director of veterinary services for its relatively new pork production business.
With 35,000 sows throughout Iowa, Georgia and South Carolina, Cactus retains all pigs produced for its wean-to-finish production at 130 sites in Iowa, one in Minnesota and a handful in Nebraska.
One hundred percent employee-owned, Cactus markets around 850,000 hogs per year. The company plans to add 7,500 sows and seeks to add 40 new wean-to-finish barns to its operation by fall 2021.
"That was kind of the main driving force for me, was the opportunity to come and develop my own programs," says the 30-year-old, who's now based in southern Iowa.
Since starting his position at Cactus in June 2018, Boykin has been focused on helping Cactus pork production grow stronger, whether that be through building a Secure Pork Supply Plan for the sites, or implementing a whole-herd vaccination program for influenza A.
"I want to get better and better in what I do every day, to seek out knowledge and provide opportunities for us to more efficiently produce," Boykin says.