In 2011, when Robbie Alverson left the dairy farm he and his father were managing near Orient, S.D., the plan was to head back home to Osakis, Minn.; marry his fiancée, Britta; take a job for six months; and then either head back west to the dairy or return to college to pursue a degree in teaching.
"I took a job with Fiedler Finishing — just answered an ad for barn caretaker and thought, 'Well, I can do that for six months, that's fine,' and now I've been here for eight-and-a-half years," Alverson says.
Prior to those six months, Alverson says a career in the swine industry had never crossed his mind.
"To me, farming was not in barns," Alverson says. "I wanted to be outside with the cattle and doing the outdoor stuff, but once I came in and I saw how the industry works, and [owner] Paul [Fiedler] gave me the opportunities to learn and grow and to see different things, I realized pig farming is more than what I had thought it was."
Fiedler Finishing, based in Westport, Minn., is a 3,200-head breeding and farrowing operation, which produces approximately 70,000 animals per year. The production system also owns finishing space for 22,000 head and rents another 10,000 spaces. Some are sold for breeding stock, while the rest are sold to market.
As a nursery and grow-finish manager for Fiedler Finishing, Alverson oversees six barn caretakers and more than 8,000 finishing spaces, as well as consults with four contractors in southern Minnesota who run barrow floors for the production system.
He also administers all sales, communicating with genetics companies on orders and lining up loads with Fiedler's on-site trucking firm, Kodiak Express.
"I really enjoy the multiplication side of things, selecting and trying to improve on the gilts that we're sending to customers, trying to hit those loads where there are no rejects on the load," Alverson says.
Over the years, Alverson says he has treasured the relationships he has built with those genetics representatives, as well as the opportunities Fiedler has given him.
"Paul really invests in his employees that want to push themselves to go further. We go to a lot of different classes, seminars," Alverson says. "In that first year, there were many things that I got to go to and learn, which just showed me more about the industry, and it really sparked my interest and wanting me to keep growing within it."
Through good times and bad, Fiedler has been nothing but supportive, he says. In November 2018, Alverson and another employee were working in a barn near Padua, Minn., agitating and pumping manure, when they discovered 50 deceased pigs.
The two tried to open the curtains on the barn to ventilate the contaminated area, but both fell ill due to hazardous gas exposure and had to be treated at the local hospital.
Shortly after, Alverson remembers reading a comment on social media that the caregivers should have died with the pigs.
"People don't understand. We were trying to save the pigs," Alverson says. "Like, that's why we were in there, trying to get things opened up for the pigs — but, again it goes back to how I was when I started. I didn't understand why pigs were raised in confinement, and people just do not understand why we do what we do."
The 29-year-old has no plans to leave the swine industry. He and his wife have placed their roots in Osakis to raise their 5-year-old daughter, Marlow, and 2-year-old son, Sawyer, with another child on the way in February. His daughter's favorite question to ask him each day is how many showers he had to take. Alverson says the record is 22.
"I grew up in agriculture, the dairy side of things — but, I mean, I had no idea what actually happened in the pig world, a far as confinement, diseases, genetics, everything that's involved in raising pigs," Alverson says. "My passion is educating people as to what we do, why we do the things we do, why we raise the pigs the way we raise them and the importance of biosecurity."