Building an Oasis

Building an Oasis

Trees and shrubs help build a buffer that let this finisher site coexist with wildlife

Trees and shrubs help build a buffer that let this finisher site coexist with wildlife.

From 1,500 ft. above the ground, Mike Haupert's finishing site looks to be nothing less than an oasis. Sitting beside blue waters, nestled in with deep green trees and bright wildflowers, the site looks like it was placed with an artist's brush into a long, unbroken canvas of southern Minnesota row-crop fields.

Haupert says it's a real draw for wildlife, but it's also a nice campus on which to instill the love of farming and the outdoors to his 9-year-old son, Jake. “It's fun to go out there,” Jake says. “There's a lot of stuff to see.”

The Haupert site draws on a lot of family help, as Mike's father Harold, brother Dan and daughter Desi also can be found helping out with management of the hog finishing facility.

“This is a place we are proud to call home,” Mike says. “We all want to enjoy the best quality of life Minnesota has to offer, like hunting, fishing, hiking and simply enjoying the beautiful scenery.

“With nearly 90% of land in southern Minnesota used for crop production, I felt it was the right thing to do,” he continues. “This site helps enrich the ecosystem and makes a home for wildlife. Agriculture and farming can, and should, peace-fully coexist.”

Site Selection

The Haupert site houses 3,120 wean-to-finish spaces for an annual production of about 8,100 pigs. The operation was completed in 2003 and features fully slotted floors and vinyl curtains for ventilation and temperature control. Pigs are raised on contract with Christensen Farms at Sleepy Eye, MN.

Haupert began his good relationship with neighbors well before pigs were placed. He worked to identify a location that would be acceptable to neighbors, considering prevailing wind direction, proximity of roads, available land for manure application and distance to residences and surface waters.

After considering a dozen or more locations, he finally settled on this site near Lake Wilson, MN. The barn actually parallels Beaver Creek, resulting in a roofline that runs southwest-to-northeast. That's been an unexpected plus, he says. “We really get a good airflow in summertime and barns stay very comfortable.”

Capturing Nutrients

Manure is stored in deep pits beneath the slats for application, generally done once a year in the fall. Christensen Farms formulates diets to specifically meet the needs of pigs according to their stage of growth, preventing excess nutrients from going into the pit. Phytase is used to reduce the amount of phosphorus in the manure. Finishing diets use high levels of amino acids to reduce the amount of nitrogen that pigs excrete.

Manure nutrients are used on land farmed by Haupert's cousin, Jeff Bose. “You can see the effects when we use this organic humus on our fields,” Bose says. “You can see a difference in the color of the crop.”

The barn supplies about 600 acres worth of nutrients for crop production, but Haupert included 900 acres in the manure management plan as a safeguard.

The land is located a couple of miles from the finisher, but it takes only about three days to apply a year's worth of manure from the barn.

Ron Scott, who operates Scott's Liquid Handling, applies the manure using a tractor-drawn, 9,500-gal. tanker with a double-disk covering system. Scott's equipment is set up to load from the bottom, eliminating manure foam and helping avoid spills. “Sometimes it's hard to tell they have even been here to pump,” Haupert says. “There's very little mess when they do the pumping.”

Ron Scott appreciates the neat appearance of the Haupert site. “This is an excellent site,” he says. “The grass, the grounds and the landscaping are immaculate. Everything is kept mowed and cleaned up, and his equipment is spotless.”

Scott's keeps detailed records of the application dates, amount applied and location. They also watch for special protected areas such as tile inlets and soil with high levels of phosphorus.

Buffer Booster

Haupert pays attention to details in keeping aesthetics and air quality at a high level. He built a refrigerated mortality shed to hold any losses until they can be picked up within 48 hours. The unit eliminates a potential source of odor and keeps dead animals out of sight.

He's also known for attention to detail in daily operations. Floors are swept, feed spills are removed and the barn is thoroughly cleaned and sanitized between turns. Ventilation fans and other equipment are regularly cleaned to remove dust. The workroom and office at the facility are kept spotless.

He also plants and maintains a variety of trees, shrubs and wildflowers that produce a carpet of color.

On the five acres surrounding the facility, he has established dogwood, apple, red and yellow maple and plum trees along with honeysuckle and other shrubs. The plantings not only add beauty, they also help diffuse odors.

One of Haupert's priorities has been to boost the wildlife habitat around the site, and he has seen quite a response. Pheasant, deer, rabbits, partridges and songbirds regularly use the area. Several pheasant feeders are strategically placed around the site.

Dedication to stewardship has resulted in the Haupert site being selected for the Christensen Farms Site of the Year and the 2006 Minnesota Pork Producer Association's Environmental Stewardship Award.

“We've recognized Mike numerous times for his commitment to environmental stewardship,” says Stuart Moser, Christensen Farms nursery-grow-finish manager. “He is setting a good example for all of our producers.”

Haupert says he's just trying to focus on doing the right thing, not only for his family but also for the environment. “My environmental philosophy is, and will continue to be, to do the right thing,” he says. “I didn't rush into building this site. I knew what I wanted to do, and I knew that growing our agricultural enterprise would not only help me support my family, but is also good for our small but strong rural community.”

His search for the right site seems to have paid big dividends. “We found a place that would have a minimal impact on neighbors,” he says. “But it's also a place where we can help enhance our wildlife and protect natural resources.”