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Hutterites - A Growing Force

Colonies produce about 40% of South Dakota's hogs.Vicious straight-line winds had devastating effects on Oak Lane Hutterite Colony's farming operation on June 20, 1997. The storm unleashed its wrath in the dead of night, destroying the colony's grain handling facilities and a large shed full of machinery. Every colony building sustained major damage, and 1,600 acres of soybeans and 800 acres of corn

Colonies produce about 40% of South Dakota's hogs.

Vicious straight-line winds had devastating effects on Oak Lane Hutterite Colony's farming operation on June 20, 1997. The storm unleashed its wrath in the dead of night, destroying the colony's grain handling facilities and a large shed full of machinery. Every colony building sustained major damage, and 1,600 acres of soybeans and 800 acres of corn were wiped out.

When asked how he could possibly make sense out of this distressing situation, Oak Lane's business manager, John Wipf, replied, "I don't like to put a question mark where the good Lord has put a period."

An early morning call for help was put out to other area colonies. By 9 that very morning, generators had restored power to the site and 325 additional men had arrived from other colonies to help with cleanup. This spirit of cooperation, combined with a strong religious faith in both good times and bad, has helped South Dakota's Hutterite colonies survive and thrive while blending deeply rooted religious beliefs with 21st century technology.

There are 51 Hutterite colonies in South Dakota. All but two produce pigs. John estimates the average colony has at least a 600-sow herd. The colonies work together to secure the best markets.

It's been estimated that 40% of the hogs produced in South Dakota are produced by the state's Hutterite colonies. The Hutterites are frequently described as being among the early-adopters of new technology while living according to strict religious rules and traditions handed down since the sixteenth century.

Oak Lane Colony, Alexandria, SD, owns an 830-sow farrow-to-finish operation which helps support 86 colony members. Wipf graciously agreed to give National Hog Farmer readers a glimpse at the colony's successful swine enterprise.

Toby Wipf, John's brother, has been Oak Lane's swine manager for three years. Although he wasn't expecting a photographer to be touring the swine buildings on the day National Hog Farmer visited, the buildings were still spotless. Six men work fulltime in the swine operation. The colony is expanding to 1,000 sows this year.

The colony is a network gilt multiplier for Babcock Swine. All sows are bred via artificial insemination (AI). Semen is collected from the colony's boar stud, located on a separate site. The colony uses a closed herd rotational breeding program.

"We've always had a good working relationship with Oak Lane Colony. They do a good job of managing their hog operation," says Jim McPeak, President, Babcock Swine, Rochester, MN. "The whole colony management team is excellent. Quite frequently Oak Lane Colony is called upon to help another colony that is facing management or financial challenges."

Oak Lane grows the crops needed to feed the hogs (1,700 acres of corn and 1,700 acres of soybeans), a dairy herd and 70,000 turkeys annually. All feed is milled on-site.

The colony uses both a lagoon and an A.O. Smith Slurrystore for manure. A manure pit additive called Shac is used to lower ammonia and odor. The manure is knifed into the colony's crop land.

Starting Out The Oak Lane Colony site was purchased from a local farmer, complete with a 300-sow, farrow-to-finish operation in 1979. The colony was officially established in 1986, branching off from nearby Rockport Colony. When a Hutterite colony reaches a set maximum population size, land is purchased and a new colony is formed.

A crated gestation building was the first addition, built in 1988, with hot water under the floor as an added feature. The building is currently being expanded (using colony construction workers) to accommodate the growing sow herd. Additional gestation stalls are being added, along with pen space for 45 gilts.

In 1989, new farrowing and nursery facilities were added. And, in 1991, a confinement finisher was built.

The farrowing unit features 10 rooms with 10 crates each. There are heat mats in each farrowing crate for pigs. The colony is averaging 22 pigs/sow/year.

Sows are washed and disinfected before entering farrowing crates. Pigs are weaned at 17 days of age, sorted by sex and size, and moved to one of seven nursery wards with 20 pens/room. A sophisticated computer system automatically lowers the temperatures of the rooms as the pigs age. The temperature gradually lowers from 90 degrees to 70 degrees F during a 35-day period.

The control room also houses alarms that can be run automatically or manually in case of power and ventilation system failure. There is both a main and secondary alarm system.

A boiler room houses three boilers used to heat the operation. A stand-by generator is available for emergencies.

Pigs are moved to the finishers at 50 lb. and are put in pens of approximately 17 pigs/pen.

New off-site finishing buildings were completed in March 1998.

Financing for colony expansion projects comes from Farm Credit Services.

Breeding Stock Screening The colony produces all their own gilts. Replacement animals and breeding stock are selected using ultrasound scanning information and a computer indexing program. A Pig-Log machine is used to take ninth and last rib backfat readings while the pig is on the scale.

Percent lean, loineye depth, age to 240 lb. and backfat depth information are downloaded into the colony computers. The information is sent on to Babcock, where gilts are indexed and ranked. The top 15-20% of gilts are selected for breeding stock using the index.

During 1997, the colony averaged 54% lean, .73 in. backfat and a 2.11 in. loineye depth.

Marketing Pigs are marketed between 240-250 lb. Oak Lane Colony sells one to two semi truckloads of market hogs (192/load) weekly.

An enclosed load-out area attached to the finishing unit, large enough to accommodate a semi truck, was designed and built by colony members. This area is 90 ft. long with a 14-ft. ceiling and a 22-ft. long hydraulic chute capable of loading two tiers on a semi truck. Neither pigs nor laborers are exposed to the elements while loading.

The 49 South Dakota Hutterite colonies that produce hogs formed a marketing group called Prairie Land Pork to handle marketing arrangements. Two consultants are paid a fee (per hundred-weight) to make sure the hogs are matched with the best packer program. The consultants also analyze carcass data and provide monthly reports to the colonies.

"With the help of the Prairie Land Pork group we can make informed decisions about things like changing lysine levels to improve carcass yields," Toby says.

Staying Involved The colonies take an active part in South Dakota's pork industry. John is on the South Dakota Pork Producers Council educational committee. The Oak Lane Colony swine personnel are PQA-Level III certified.

The colonies worked together during the state's legislative session to make sure proposed legislation does not negatively impact colony farming interests. Colonies are still classified as a family farm operation in South Dakota.

"Once in awhile you see a farm that has all the cutting edge technologies with management that knows how to use them to get the most economic benefit, Babcock's McPeak says. "Oak Lane Colony knows how to use those technologies while remaining cost-effective."

"We take care of our people from the cradle to the grave," says John Wipf, farm manager and member of the Oak Lane Hutterite Colony, Alexandria, SD. "People get whatever they need physically, mentally and spiritually."

Colony members at Oak Lane eat together in a common dining hall. They work together, dress similarly, and all families live in the same style duplex homes. The Hutterite way of life includes a ready acceptance of cutting edge agricultural technologies, while maintaining social and lifestyle rules strictly rooted in Biblical tradition and teachings.

James Satterlee, Sociology Department, South Dakota State University, has done extensive research into South Dakota's Hutterite colony structure. He says South Dakota's Hutterite communities range in size from 50 to 150 persons. Satterlee says worldly possessions and amusements are considered against colony religious rules. "Dance, theater, cards, smoking, motion pictures, television and radio are generally off-limits," he relates.

Hutterite History The Hutterian Brethren religious group originated in 1528 in Austria and Moravia. The group originated as part of the Sixteenth Century Protestant Reformation.

According to Hutterite historians and South Dakota State University researchers, founders of the Hutterian Brethren believed in adult baptism and separation of church and state.

Hutterites interpret the New Testament of the Bible literally and the principle of "community of goods" is a main foundation of their way of life. The Hutterite faith insists on complete sharing of worldly possessions. Hutterites have relocated many times throughout history rather than abandon their beliefs.

Hutterite colonies in the U.S. started when Hutterites migrated from three villages in the Ukraine in 1874 and started the Bon Homme Colony near Tabor, SD. Rockport Colony, the "mother colony" from which Oak Lane Colony was formed, branched off from the original Bon Homme Colony. According to Satterlee, there were 368 Hutterite colonies in the world in 1993. "The largest number of colonies (252) is in Canada, followed by the U.S. (113)," Satterlee explains.

The majority of the U.S. Hutterite colonies are in South Dakota, followed by Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota and Washington. Colonies are mainly agricultural.

Colony Life Colony families are provided household items and receive an allowance for discretionary spending. The colony provides housing and furniture for everyone.

Children attend a kindergarten from age 3 to age 5 to learn socialization skills according to the Hutterite faith. At age 5, children begin "German" school. They study the Bible, learn hymns and the German language, all from a colony member designated as the German teacher. At age 6, children start attending an English school taught on the colony grounds.

Children are educated through the 8th grade at Oak Lane. At age 15, youth enter a transitional stage between childhood and adulthood. They are not yet attached to specific departments.

When the young people request baptism, they are deemed ready for marriage. At this point, the young men are also assigned more specialized roles in the colony departments.

Every married colony male votes on who is going to work in a particular job. Wipf says if a person is interested in a specific position, they usually will be placed there. That is, if that person is a man. Women don't get assigned production agriculture jobs.

Satterlee explains the formal organization of most colonies includes an elected Council of Elders determining all aspects of the sacred and secular life of the community members.

"The Council of Elders is usually made up of five to seven baptized, married males," Satterlee explains. "The minister, assistant minister, and business manager are automatically Council members. The remaining membership is elected for life by the voting members of the congregation (are baptized and married males)."

Satterlee points out the Council of Elders makes all basic decisions, which then are brought before the congregation for approval. "The colony minister serves as the actual day-to-day head and spokesman for the Council and community," Satterlee says. "The business manager, also elected by the voting members, is delegated responsibility for economic aspects of the colony. He assigns jobs and duties, purchases goods and services for the colony, and oversees the economic well-being of the community."

Department heads have specific economic responsibilities. These department heads report to the farm boss. Satterlee says women may serve as head chef, head seamstress and sometimes head gardener.

Wipf, as the business manager, is part of the executive committee of Oak Lane Colony, along with the minister (who is the president). The executive committee meets every morning (except Sunday) at 7:30 a.m. to discuss colony business and work assignments. Colony members have to be at work at 8 a.m.

"Everyone in this colony has to pull their end," John Wipf says. "If everyone pulls their end, it is fairly easy for everyone."

Robert Wipf is the assistant swine manager at Oak Lane. Summing his lifestyle, he says, "I get paid nothing, but I get everything I need."