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Articles from 2007 In May

Making Sense of Demand Data

The status of meat demand in general, and pork demand in particular, is a bit of a mystery at present. Professor Glenn Grimes of the University of Missouri recently released his first demand index computations for 2007 and the numbers were not at all pretty. The index for consumer-level pork demand is down 1.7% for January through March of this year, while choice beef demand was 0.8% lower and broiler demand was down a whopping 6.4%.

Professor Grimes' indexes measure the percentage change in demand vs. the same period one year ago. The demand indexes use per capita pork disappearance (assumed to be consumption), deflated retail prices and an assumed elasticity of demand to estimate the movement of an entire demand curve. (I have presented Professor Grimes' calculated numbers for demand elasticity of -0.75) These numbers do not represent a change in consumption or a change in price, but the relative changes in both variables.

The problem is that Professor Grimes' data, which are theoretically sound and correctly computed, do not square well with what we have seen at other levels of the meat industry this year.

Hog prices and pork cutout values have been substantially higher than one year ago in spite of production that is up 1.6%, year-to-date (YTD). Beef cutouts and fed cattle prices are higher, too, on production that is 1.4% higher, YTD. Wholesale chicken prices have been much higher, though one reason for that is a reduction of output that has been as large as 4.5% and is still 1.5% lower than in 2006.

The first two definitely imply higher demand for hogs and cattle at the producer level and pork and beef at the wholesale level. The last of those does not rule out higher wholesale chicken demand depending on the relative size of the price and consumption changes.

Another way to look at demand is to look at scatter diagrams that plot price-quantity pairs for specific time periods. Figures 1 through 3 show scatter diagrams for the first quarter of 2007 for pork, beef and broilers at the wholesale level. That is, the diagrams plot the deflated cutout values for beef and pork and deflated composite broiler price for broilers against first quarter production. The important thing about all three is that the 2007 observation is at least no closer to the origin of the graph. That means that wholesale demand is at least as good as last year for beef, slightly better for pork and, interestingly, much better for chicken.

Why the difference with the retail level demand indexes?

First, there are substantial time lags for price transmission. Retailers and foodservice operators will "eat" higher wholesale prices for some time before they mark up retail and menu prices. The reason is simple. Their customers don't like price increases and these business people are not interested in making life more difficult. On the other hand, prices are transmitted to the wholesale very quickly and thus would appear in these quarterly graphs.

Second (and you have heard me whine about this before), the retail price data are not very good. We had a system in place for three years that was gathering scanner price data for meats, but it lapsed when the U.S. Senate allowed the mandatory price reporting legislation to lapse in the fall of 2005. That legislation has finally been reauthorized, but USDA has neither issued new price reporting rules nor restarted the scanner price gathering effort. There is talk of getting it going again, so there is hope that we will have better retail data in the future.

Third, and possibly most important, exports have an impact on wholesale prices but not necessarily on retail prices. Exports are up for all three species this year, so this is a major factor.

Of course, the bad part of this story is the position of the 2006 price-quantity observation for pork. It was substantially below the 2004 and 2005 positions and reflects low chicken prices last year and a decline from the big demand surge in 2004 that was driven by high protein, low carbohydrate diets. But 2006 is history and 2007 appears to be off to a much better start. Let's just hope the remaining quarter can maintain that growth trend!

Click to view graphs.

Steve R. Meyer, Ph.D.
Paragon Economics, Inc.

The 2007 Masters of the Pork Industry

The 2007 Masters of the Pork Industry

The Masters of the Pork Industry are a very special, handpicked group of pork industry visionaries.

Herein, you will find the personal stories and business philosophies of this dynamic group.

Each openly shares the trials and inspirations that have carried them forward in their pursuit of excellence.

Their dedication and insight about the challenges facing the pork industry are invaluable.

Jump to:
Bob Dykhuis | Jill Appell | Bob Baarsch | Roy Schultz, DVM | Chris Hurt | Don Levis | Temple Grandin | Alan Sutton | Gary Cromwell | Allen E. Christian

Bob Dykhuis

Industry involvement provides big payback.

Bob Dykhuis is excited about the pork industry's future. Never mind about ethanol, the price of corn, sow gestation stalls and PRRS (porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome). These are all manageable challenges, says the Holland, MI, pork producer.

In a sense, some of these challenges are an opportunity for the industry, he says. They're sure to make it better. Stronger.

“There are some exciting people coming back into this industry who are really educated and professional; people who have a family history behind them,” he reinforces. “I think that's exciting. We've got to get them integrated and involved.”

Dykhuis Farms' sow herd is currently pushing 19,000 sows, with a goal of 20,000.

“With our size, the people we are recruiting and hiring are specialists; key people to do certain things,” he explains. Included in that recruitment is his oldest daughter, Erin, a graduate of Iowa State University, who serves as Dykhuis Farms' reproductive supervisor; and son, Joe, an agricultural economics major at Purdue University, who's returned as the firm's economist and manager of special projects. Bob and Lorrie's three youngest daughters — Rachel, Cara and Jenna — are at various stages of college and high school education. All have worked in the hog operation.

Recent hires also include a crop specialist in charge of waste management, and a nutritionist with a master's degree who will oversee wean-to-finish operations.

“A few years ago, I was between my youthful, risk-taking enthusiasm and seeing my children's commitment to agriculture,” Dykhuis admits. “We were dealing with PRRS and lower prices. But then we started to reengage and build this bigger system. We went from 5,000 sows to 8,000, then to 12,000, then to 15,000, and now we're aiming at 20,000 in just five years. My kids are coming back into the operation. We are hiring a different level of professional to take care of the different challenges. We're redoing our computer software and our tracking capabilities, so we're measuring things more intensely, scientifically. We're trying to figure out how things happen, why they happen — before they happen.

“To me, in a sense, the thing that fuels most of that is higher feed prices. Higher feed prices reward better management. We needed to improve our management anyway, but recent feed prices fueled it. Just as high corn prices intensify how you raise corn, higher feed prices refocus us on better management in pig production. It offers an almost renewed excitement and intensity, which as an industry is where we want to go anyway.”

No Stranger to Change

In 1978, Dykhuis graduated from a two-year agricultural technology program at Michigan State University and joined his father in a grain bin construction business, which supported a part-time farming operation both hoped could someday be a full-time endeavor.

By the end of 1980, their plans began to take shape. On Dec. 23, they took delivery of their first PIC gilts for a 200-sow, farrow-to-feeder pig operation. “We got into the industry at a time when I had enough education to understand that there were scientific ways to do things, yet early enough that the explosion wasn't too big to ride the wave,” he remembers.

In 1985, a decision had to be made — expand the partnership or choose a new course. Dykhuis sold his portion of the operation to his father and he and his wife, Lorrie, built a new, 270-sow operation. By 1987, he developed an internal gilt multiplication plan using PIC stock. By the late '80s, Dykhuis realized the feeder pig business was floundering, so he converted to farrow-to-finish production.

Continue reading about Bob Dykhuis >

“Up until about 1990, a pig was a pig,” states Dykhuis. “If it had four legs and a tail, that's all that mattered. They didn't measure feed conversion or average daily gain.

“But all of that changed in the early '90s. Leannesss and feed conversion became important. Just like now, feed conversion is in vogue again — out of necessity.”

In 1991, the elder Dykhuis was ready to retire, so Bob bought the original herd. In 1995, he decided to expand to 2,500 sows. He learned artificial insemination, adopted the new multi-site production philosophy and signed up his first group of contract finishers.

“Contract finishing embeds in your mind what a pig space is worth because you are paying for it,” he reinforces. “We never charged ourselves for pig space before. I soon realized, to make these buildings work, you've got to have pig flow to turn them.”

By the mid '90s, Dykhuis felt “bullet proof.” But then PRRS hit and the relearning process started all over again. “PRRS was a huge thing that shaped the industry; at least it did for us,” he attests. “First, we tried to treat and treat, but usually there were secondary pathogens involved. We tried parity segregation.”

Since 2001, Dykhuis has fine-tuned a project where gilts are raised and bred in contract wean-to-finish barns, then moved to three different all-in, all-out gestation barns. Finally, they are moved to one of three farrowing-only sites. At weaning, the sows are moved to one of five herds that are on a rotational depopulation program. “It has stabilized PRRS in our system,” he says.

In recent years, most of Dykhuis Farms' growth has come from purchasing and remodeling existing facilities. “In a sense, we have decommissioned some of the animal units. I think if you asked people, most would say they appreciated that we are reinvesting and cleaning up these places.” Often, they are converted to sow units, which have fewer odors than finishers.

“It's important to have the proper design, either stalls or pens that keep themselves clean. You don't want the manure just lying there on partial slats, because it will stink,” he adds.

Remodeling projects have focused on pen gestation instead of stalls for sows. “I like stalls, but I don't think we are going to be able to keep them,” he says. About three years ago, he and his daughter, Erin, remodeled a barn to house sows in stalls the first 30 days after weaning, then group them 50/pen. Steel feed-drop pipes are spaced every 36 in. along outside walls to allow two sows to eat at each drop. Sows are fed twice daily. “You have to manage them differently, but it can be done,” he reassures.

“I think the challenge that the industry faces is protecting the use of stalls the first 30 days (after weaning). Those 30 days are really important. We don't want to lose that,” he states.

Over 90% of Dykhuis Farms' annual production is raised by contract finishers, with more and more destined for Indiana. “With the ethanol situation, we don't mind being in a few different corn production areas, plus it puts us closer to the packing plant,” he explains.

Hogs are sold predominantly to Tyson Foods in Logansport, IN.

Reflections on a Career

Dykhuis looks back and marvels at the opportunities the last 25 years have offered him. He gives a great deal of the credit for his business acumen to the county, state and national pork producer groups he's been involved with. “They have allowed me to develop as a leader — for free,” he says. He credits his work as chairman of the state's pseudorabies eradication committee for giving him the opportunity to rub shoulders with some of the best swine veterinarians in the country.

“You have to be involved in your industry,” he emphasizes. “First of all, to gauge how the industry is changing. I have lots of friends who are no longer farming who tried to do a better and better job of how they did it 10 years before. Meanwhile, things like multi-site production, virus management, nutritional advances, weaning age and gestation stalls are all big deals that will not hit you if you don't leave the farm.

“You have to be with people and learn. You can't always plan that, because you don't know when you're going to bump into a person who has an idea that can make a difference to you or your operation.

“Our mission statement is ‘to glorify God through careful and deliberate use of resources,’” he explains. “I see things as a covenantal community. We are endowed with gifts as a group of people. If we work together and use our gifts, that community will be enhanced. I really believe that. In a sense, some of the success of the community is on everyone's shoulders. I see my children understanding that and I think that's healthy. To watch kids change and be responsible is a wonderful thing for a parent. We can talk about the pigs and all of that, but my five children are pretty special. Although it was a team effort, my wife took really good care of our kids.”
Dale Miller, Editor

Continue to next Master: Jill Appell >

Jump to:
Bob Dykhuis | Jill Appell | Bob Baarsch | Roy Schultz, DVM | Chris Hurt | Don Levis | Temple Grandin | Alan Sutton | Gary Cromwell | Allen E. Christian

Jill Appell

Proud president of the National Pork Producers Council

Jill Appell of Altona, IL, brings a unique background and life experiences to the job of president of NPPC.

Appell is proud to be given the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of other noteworthy NPPC presidents — Donna Reifschneider of Illinois, Barb Determan of Iowa and Joy Philippi of Nebraska.

Unlike her predecessors, Appell wasn't raised on a hog farm. Rather, she grew up on the north side of Chicago in the suburbs of Highland Park and Libertyville.

Her agricultural roots were limited but strong. “My grandfather's family had emigrated from Sweden to Michigan, and one of their brothers had a dairy farm that I would visit when I was young. I loved milking the cows. I'd come home and tell my mother not to wash those clothes because I didn't want to lose the smell of the farm,” she remembers.

Her great-grandparents owned a 200-acre farm bordering Lake Michigan, but lost it all in the Great Depression.

With an aptitude for English, she attended Bradley University in Peoria, IL, achieving bachelor and master's degrees in English literature. Following graduation, she worked as a graduate assistant and then as an instructor in English composition at Bradley.

As fate would have it, she met her future second husband at the Illinois Valley Striders Running Club in Peoria. Paul Appell raised hogs and was a lifelong resident of the Altona area, just northeast of Galesburg.

“I always loved agriculture and the farming life, and the first time I came out to the farm, I thought, ‘this is where I belong,’” Jill Appell recalls.

She attended a University of Illinois farrowing school, where she learned how to care for baby pigs. That became her job on the family's 600-sow, farrow-to-finish operation, which included outside lots for sows and confined farrowing, nursery and finishing units. She also took charge of the finance and bookkeeping chores.

Fire Forces Operation Change

In 2000, a catastrophe changed the farming landscape for the Appells. An early morning fire engulfed the farrowing barn, completely destroying the building and sows and 1,200 pigs.

With Paul and Jill and eight fulltime employees providing the labor, the Appells decided to reduce the labor demands by converting the operation to wean-to-finish. Farrowing barns were converted to finishing. Now they buy 400-450 head of 14- to 16-day-old weaned pigs for three consecutive weeks to fill an existing 1,300-head nursery. No pigs are brought in for the next six weeks, thus putting them on a nine-week rotation, she explains.

All of the finishing sites, including a new 1,200-head barn they built, are on separate sites. They finish 8,000 pigs/year using family labor and two full-time employees.

The pigs are purchased from hog partners Dale McKee and Dave Flack at Rio, IL. Appell says the arrangement has worked out well because the partners provide pigs that are uniform and healthy.

Since converting to wean-to-finish production, her duties have evolved to treating and managing the nursery pigs. But her responsibilities as vice president, president-elect and now president of NPPC have increased demands on her time.

She has been told by previous leaders to figure on half the days of the year to be consumed by trips during her presidency, mostly made up of jaunts to NPPC headquarters in Des Moines, government meetings and hearings in Washington, DC. She says the most noticeable increase in demands on her time since being elected NPPC president in March is the escalating number of phone calls from the media on industry issues. They all want a sound byte from the group's leader, she says.

Her educational background has served her well in articulating points provided by NPPC. And, she says, her urban roots help her relate to the mindset of average consumers.

“You can think about how other people live, but it doesn't resonate the same as with people who've lived it,” she explains. “I think a lot of times we blame urban people for not understanding agriculture, but why should they?”

Continue reading about Jill Appell >

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Bob Dykhuis | Jill Appell | Bob Baarsch | Roy Schultz, DVM | Chris Hurt | Don Levis | Temple Grandin | Alan Sutton | Gary Cromwell | Allen E. Christian

Take the issue of gestation crates, for example. Because consumers relate to this issue on an emotional level, they see sows crammed into stalls in which they can't turn around.

“They don't understand that the reason behind putting them in stalls is because they were being kind of beaten up by each other, being injured, contracting infections and joint problems from fighting before they were put in stalls,” she points out. “In stalls, their health is vastly improved. You could argue whether their psychological health is better, but how mentally healthy is any individual, whether it be animal or human, who is in fear of being abused all of the time? I am not convinced that sows are better off psychologically when they are in group housing if they are going to be picked on by one or two of the boss sows that kind of run things.”

On her third trip to Denmark, Appell says she saw a remarkable example of the sows' preference for stalls over group pen housing.

Gestating sows confined in a free-access housing system (sold by Chore-Time Hog Production Systems in the United States) can manipulate the back gate to move in and out of the stall to spend time in a loafing area, then return to the stall for feeding.

“What we saw was the sows preferred to stay in those stalls. We only saw 1-2 sows out in the pen area, and the producers would tell us that those were generally the boss sows and they were patrolling. Every once in a while, you would see the boss sows try and push open the back end of one of the sow crates. The sow in the crate would put her nose on the lever so they couldn't open them,” Appell states.

Even though this is an emotionally charged issue, it's important that the pork industry sticks to the science, while still realizing that “this train may have already left the station” in terms of changing consumer opinion, she says.

The pork industry needs to get out in front of the next major animal welfare issue in order to have an impact with consumers, she believes, adding the next major issue could be farrowing crates.

Other Issues

As a policymaking and lobbying organization, NPPC has many other hot topics to address, including mandatory country-of-origin labeling, the new farm bill, free trade agreements which support the valuable export market, ethanol and energy, and the long-standing issue of feeding antibiotics to livestock, she says.

At the Appell farm, if there is a respiratory flareup, pigs will be vaccinated with a product for Mycoplasmal pneumonia, and nursery pigs will get broad-spectrum antibiotics for 5-10 days to reduce symptoms. Then the antibiotics are removed to conserve cost and retain maximum efficacy.

“I think it would be disastrous if we had to remove antibiotics totally from the nurseries, which I have seen in Denmark,” she says. Danish producers are experiencing a big struggle with scours from ileitis two weeks after weaning. Changes in facilities and management seem to have had little impact on the problem there, she adds.

Tough Challenges Remain

NPPC is making progress in addressing challenges and improving its organizational structure, according to Appell.

But as the organization's top officer, she has set some tough goals for herself to achieve during her one-year term. A two-pronged objective is to create more unity among NPPC producer members, and in doing so, organize a larger cadre of voluntary leaders who will step up to participate in the legislative process.

Appell feels she is qualified for that task given her own impressive background in working with agricultural commodity groups, including:

  • Serving for 18 months as the state director of USDA Rural Development;

  • Serving as president of the Illinois Pork Producers Association;

  • Serving on the Governor's Livestock Industry Task Force during 1995-1998; and

  • Serving on the Farm Bureau's Task Force on Women's Role in Agriculture in 1997.

Three years ago, she felt an obligation to step up when NPPC Vice President Lois Britt of North Carolina died suddenly two months into her term. Appell recalls that Lois had taken that post knowing full well that past health problems could return and leave her incapacitated — and made Appell promise if that were to happen, that she would fill the void.

She recalls with a note of sadness in her voice: “I just felt it was my obligation to do it, and even though I was reluctant, I was willing to step up to serve the organization.”
Joe Vansickle, Senior Editor

Continue to next Master: Bob Baarsch >

Jump to:
Bob Dykhuis | Jill Appell | Bob Baarsch | Roy Schultz, DVM | Chris Hurt | Don Levis | Temple Grandin | Alan Sutton | Gary Cromwell | Allen E. Christian

Bob Baarsch

Technology drives production and marketing.

Often, when Bob Baarsch drives the nearly 20 miles from his home in Spring Valley, MN, to his office in the tiny town of LeRoy, perched on the Minnesota-Iowa border, he feels like he's the only pork producer left in the county. Sometimes, it makes him sad.

His spacious, recently renovated office contains the usual business-related necessities, pictures of his family and Alaska vacations,, and a book passed down from his father, Dale Baarsch.

The book Success with Hogs, written by Charles Dawson and published in 1920, contains these words in the first paragraph of the introductory chapter: “Real hog men are not necessarily born nor bred, but are generally injected into the business through causes of necessity, and are schooled and graduated by years of costly experience.”

Baarsch identifies with the reference to “necessity” because it pretty accurately reflects his business approach to the hog business. Necessity serves as the driving force that has motivated him to apply the latest technologies to the production and marketing methods at Next Generation Pork, now producing 120,000 hogs and managing another 100,000, annually.

The Early Years

In the early ‘60s, Baarsch dabbled in the hog business with his father and older brother, Tom, who bought a bred Chester White sow from a neighbor. The litter of 10 served as the foundation of the fledgling sow herd.

In 1962, Doc Jorgenson, whose family had immigrated from Denmark, saw the Baarsches farrowing under a shade tree and declared: “You've got to get a farrowing barn.” He helped import the Danish equipment needed.

At the time, there were no crated farrowing barns in the area. “It was pretty leading edge,” Baarsch explains.

The move caught the attention of the local Purina dealer, who sent the Baarsches on a tour of the company's research farm near St. Louis, MO, to see more state-of-the-art production methods.

Then, in 1965, the Purina dealer convinced the elder Baarsch to put up a slotted-floor finishing barn. “I'll carry you in feed for as long as it takes,” he reassured.

Next, the Baarsch herd was one of the first to be stocked with Kleen Lean genetics. “They provided us with good genetics and taught us good husbandry skills and recordkeeping management,” Bob Baarsch remembers. “Those were really watershed moments.”

By 1972, the swine enterprise had grown to 100 sows, farrow-to-finish. A study of their farm accounting records showed the row crops making about a buck an acre, while the hog profits column was considerably better. So in 1973, the farm machinery was sold, the cropland rented, and the size of the sow herd doubled.

A year later, when he graduated from high school, Baarsch considered joining his parents' hog production enterprise, but chose instead to pursue an agribusiness degree at the University of Minnesota.

His college graduation corresponded with his father's decision to sell the farm, which appeared to be a last chance to buy the 200-sow herd and 200 acres of land. Baarsch passed, thinking the $470,000 price tag was a bit high.

Instead, he took a job with Merrill-Lynch in commodity futures and later worked in the cattle industry in Montana. Within two years, he returned to the Midwest to work in the specialty products division for DoBoy Feeds, based in Sioux Falls, SD.

The Farm Crisis

In the midst of the farm crisis, a foreclosure put the hog farm back in his father's hands in 1984.

“The farm was a mess,” Baarsch remembers. “You can do a lot of damage to a hog farm in 4-5 years. Dad's health wasn't very good, so he was in a bit of a fix.”

Continue reading about Bob Baarsch >

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Bob Dykhuis | Jill Appell | Bob Baarsch | Roy Schultz, DVM | Chris Hurt | Don Levis | Temple Grandin | Alan Sutton | Gary Cromwell | Allen E. Christian

Realizing he didn't fit the corporate business culture very well, he and his wife, Kathy, returned to Spring Valley, her home town, to raise a family. “Nobody came back to a hog farm in 1984 to make any money,” he assures.

Although the profit picture was bleak in the mid-‘80s, Baarsch began upgrading the operation. White Diamond gilts were brought in to update the genetic base of the sow herd. A 21-day, continuous-weaning program was initiated. The barn was remodeled with decks to serve as a nursery. “We went from a '60s vintage farm to an '80s vintage farm the first year,” he explains.

Constantly on the lookout for new technologies to improve production efficiencies and output, Baarsch was second to sign up as a sample herd for the PigChamp recordkeeping program, which was being developed at the University of Minnesota in 1985.

“Dad partnered with me for two years, then I bought him out 1986,” he remembers. “In 1987, I had six figures in my savings account. I couldn't figure out what to do with it, so I started reinvesting it back into the hog business.”

Then the Hormel strike hit and the buying station just 5 miles away couldn't take his hogs. “It was then that I realized I was really vulnerable to the market's comings and goings. I decided I'd better get to where I could fill a semi trailer with pigs. That meant I needed 500 sows to sell 200 pigs/week. That propelled our first growth spurt,” he says.

By 1996, Baarsch says they were growing faster than they could capitalize, so he brought a college friend, Dan Tomsche, DVM, in as a partner.

Tapping Technology

Frustrated with technology application and uptake in the livestock industry, Baarsch launched a search and development initiative of his own. In 2002, he created Herdstar, a spin-off company whose mission statement reads: “HerdStar is dedicated to producing transparent tracing, tracking, and monitoring solutions to the livestock food industry that ensures integrity and safety to the end customer while producing operational savings and management efficiencies to the producer, processor and retailer.”

The company's first products focused on the electronics needed to run the auto-sort scales being introduced to the industry at the time.

Baarsch also saw a need for database capabilities to track grow-finish performance. Gregg Sample, his information officer, was spending many hours converting PigChamp data to spreadsheets. GF Pro, a Microsoft sequel database, was developed to manage this important aspect of Next Generation Pork's production records.

Next on the list, he wanted to get a better handle on marketing data. “I wanted to know what it cost me to sell a pig. Secondly, I wanted to know how much more we could make if we sorted them tighter or finished them heavier,” Baarsch explains. The automatic sorting technology showed promise.

“Hormel kept telling us we could make more money if we sorted better. Well-sorted groups brought 2-3% more than the poorly sorted groups,” he continues.

“I know a lot of producers have an adversarial relationship with their packer. Our philosophy is, if the company asks us to sort hogs closer and is willing to pay for it, I try to give them what they want. They are the customer.”

But Baarsch is quick to add, “That doesn't mean we roll over and say ‘yes’ to everything, but the day they have a problem, we sit down to figure out how to solve it. It has helped our growth. We have a customer who wants us to grow, encourages us to grow, and supports us. It's been instrumental in taking us to the next level.”

Baarsch's retrospective analysis shows they are making about $2 more/pig with the auto-sort scales. “Naturally, there are expenses against that, but that's $5-6/finishing space.”

Future Challenges

Talk of abandoning sow gestation stalls sends Baarsch's blood pressure up a count or two.

“We had a lot of pen gestation in our first sow units. I watched those (newly weaned) sows go at it, head-to-flank, with their full udders. When you opened a gate, the submissive sows would run over you to get out of the pen.

“This isn't about welfare, it's about fear-mongering,” he insists. “Everybody thinks we put sows in stalls for purely economic reasons. That's nonsense. Yes, there are economic reasons, but stalls are also better for the sows.

Still, he concedes, “We can either raise the pork the customer wants or we can find another occupation. We are hoping we have 4-5 years to study the problem so we can implement some ideas on a small scale before we change everything.”

Baarsch also expects the corn price-ethanol challenge to work itself out. “People will come to their senses and realize food's more important than ethanol.”

In the longer term, 5-10 years, he sees “boutique pork” as a real opportunity for the industry. “It amazes me every time I walk into a supermarket to buy deodorant or a tube of toothpaste. You've got 30 different choices. People want that in the pork they buy, too.”

Surprises and Satisfactions

When asked what has surprised him most about his 23-plus years of serious pork production, he grins and says: “Our success! We got into this industry just wanting a lifestyle, and it's ended up being quite a successful business.

“It's also been a pleasure getting to know my colleagues in the industry, whom for the most part, are outstanding people.”

He struggles to single out a mentor. “Really, my mentors have been my wife, my friends and the employees who surround me,” he says earnestly.

His father gets credit for some of the best advice he's received. “‘Keep the pens full.’ There probably isn't a better piece of advice in the hog industry,” Baarsch agrees.

And from his mother, “You have to have faith in tomorrow. Without that faith, nothing happens.”

His nugget of advice to young people interested in the pork industry is this: “This industry is pretty much about relationships. If you can't network or make and maintain relationships, you'd better not get involved. This is too big of an industry, with too much complexity, to be a lone cowboy. If you want to be successful, get in there and mix it up with people — and learn. Everyone wants to say this is a mature industry, and I suppose in some respects it is. But there are a lot of parts that are still evolving and dynamic — and that's exciting.”
Dale Miller, Editor

Continue to next Master: Roy Schultz, DVM >

Jump to:
Bob Dykhuis | Jill Appell | Bob Baarsch | Roy Schultz, DVM | Chris Hurt | Don Levis | Temple Grandin | Alan Sutton | Gary Cromwell | Allen E. Christian

Roy Schultz, DVM

Timing is everything.

For 74-year-old Roy Schultz of Avoca, IA, being in the right place at the right time has led to a prosperous life and fulfilling career in veterinary practice that has spanned 47 years.

From an early age, Schultz knew he wanted to become a swine veterinarian, but achieving that goal would take some precise timing.

Growing up on a diversified livestock farm, he learned to help with the beef cattle, milked cows and worked with the pigs and even some chickens. He helped with planting the fields and harvesting the corn in the rolling hills of southwestern Iowa — all done with horses.

Schultz learned compassion for animals early in life. He witnessed his pet dog die of distemper when there was no vaccine or treatment to deal with the problem. A 4-H heifer suffered and died from “hardware disease,” —swallowing wire, etc. around the farm. And when swine dysentery hit, oats treated with lye was the treatment. “It actually worked,” he says with a grin.

Fueling his passion for becoming a swine practitioner was neighboring farmer-turned-veterinarian Henry Stock, who, like his father, was a tenant farmer who believed in a strong work ethic. Stock decided to take a different career path and become a pig veterinarian. He did and excelled at it.

For Schultz, his career path to become a swine veterinarian was blocked by a lack of funds for education. He graduated from a one-room country school at the top of his high school class at Avoca, but scholarships were scant in those days. A friend suggested he try attending Iowa State University (ISU) for a winter quarter and enroll in agriculture. He did so and quickly excelled, earning a 4.0 grade point average.

Then, as timing would have it, the Ak-Sar-Ben livestock exposition in Nebraska offered him a one-year scholarship and he enrolled again at ISU.

Sensing a military duty, he put his name up for the draft for the Korean War and joined the U.S. Army. But instead of ending up in combat in Asia, Schultz was one of two men out of 1,600 who were selected to become a radio operator and repairman in Europe during the Cold War. He was stationed near the Berlin Wall dividing East and West Germany.

When he returned home, the GI bill provided funds for school, supplemented by four jobs. At ISU, he met his wife, Jan, while in speech class.

Schultz still managed to do well in school despite the hectic pace, achieving a bachelor's degree in farm operations in 1958, following by his swine veterinary degree in 1960.

Challenges of Swine Practice

Practicing veterinary medicine was a lot of hard work from the '60s through the '80s, with many days out the door at 5 a.m. and not returning home until 10 p.m., Schultz recalls.

Throughout his career, it has been a job he loved, which means he has never really had to work a day in his life!

“My failure to contain a large respiratory outbreak in a new confinement unit by traditional methods drove me to investigate and find the causative agent. I did find it — by accident, persistence and just blind luck,” Schultz admits in a founder's speech at the American Association of Swine Veterinarian's annual meeting in March 2006 in Kansas City, MO.

To research the problem, Schultz returned to ISU, earning a master's degree, while his wife remained at home raising their three children. He discovered the respiratory affliction was what is now known as Actinobacillus pleuropneumonia (APP). Schultz developed and patented the first APP vaccine, which he sold in 1989.

As he noted in his founder's speech, Schultz was one of 30 veterinarians who penned their names on a yellow pad at a meeting in Minneapolis in 1969, signaling the formation of the original swine veterinary organization, the American Association of Swine Practitioners.

More Good Timing

Schultz owned a successful 1,000-sow, farrow-to-finish operation for 12 years that featured confined nurseries and finishers, with outside pen gestation and individual farrowing huts. He didn't want to sell the hog operation, but was persuaded to by Wendell Murphy of North Carolina. Murphy especially wanted his large inventory of hogs that were near market weight, but didn't want to pay elevated prices, so he promised to pay what the market brought. Hogs had been averaging about $30/cwt. when negotiations were made.

But as it turned out, when the operation was sold on Oct. 6, 1987, market hog prices hit a record $62. “Remember, it's not being smart, it's timing that's the important thing,” stresses a smiling Schultz.

There have been serious personal challenges in his life as well, including a bout with cancer several years back that a urologist helped cure. Less than two weeks after delivering his address at the 2006 AASV annual meeting in Kansas City, he suffered a stroke while speaking before 600 veterinarians in Vietnam. Timing was on his side again, as a young French doctor in Saigon quickly administered a clot-busting drug that saved his life.

Schultz has decided to slow down a bit, limiting international travel, but continuing to serve as a swine veterinary consultant as long as his health holds out. He also continues his love as a conservationist and avid hunter. He is proud to be a co-founder of the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep, which has worked diligently the past 27 years in preserving the wild sheep of the world.

Accolades and Mentors

Schultz has accumulated a wide array of honors and held many prestigious offices:

  • One of the founding fathers of the AASV;

  • President of the AASV in 1986;

  • Past swine practitioner of the year;

  • Recipient of the Howard Dunne Memorial Award from the AASV in 1991;

  • Only foreign veterinarian to receive “Swine Practitioner of the Year” award from Venezuela;

  • A life member of the AASV;

  • Diplomat in swine health management by the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (emeritus);

  • Awarded life membership to the U.S. Animal Health Association (USAHA), and represented the AASV in the executive board for 25 years;

  • Honorary Iowa Master Pork Producer;

  • Al Leman Science in Practice award from the University of Minnesota; and

  • The first recipient of the Science in Practice award from Iowa State University.

Schultz is quick to credit others for their help and guidance in his success: his father, for teaching him the value of hard work; his wife, for her unflinching support through tough times; the late Alex Hogg, DVM, of Nebraska, for teaching the importance of being a lifetime learner; Richard Ross of Iowa State University, for teaching the value of complete and exacting research; and John Herrick, DVM, of Arizona, for teaching the importance of communication, both oral and written.

Schultz' best advice for success: “Work hard. Be honest with yourself and others and have the most integrity. It takes years to build a reputation, but it can be lost in a second.”

And as he ended his Founder's message at the AASV meeting in Kansas City, he proclaimed: “I'm proud to be a swine veterinarian.”
Joe Vansickle, Senior Editor

Continue to next Master: Chris Hurt >

Jump to:
Bob Dykhuis | Jill Appell | Bob Baarsch | Roy Schultz, DVM | Chris Hurt | Don Levis | Temple Grandin | Alan Sutton | Gary Cromwell | Allen E. Christian

Chris Hurt

Number cruncher produces data.

Chris Hurt knows from personal experience the myriad of challenges facing those who raise hogs. The 26-year veteran of Purdue University and professor of agricultural economics was raised on a diversified livestock farm near Casey, IL, that included hogs. And he owned and operated a 120-sow, farrow-to-finish operation on the home farm during the mid-‘70s that saw low grain costs and very profitable hog prices.

Times of Transition

Now, Hurt is trying to convince pork producers that those highly profitable margins they have enjoyed for the last three years may be a thing of the past. Escalating demand for ethanol from corn has caused grain prices to skyrocket, while hog prices have softened as pork supplies have continued a slow but steady climb.

“Feed prices are much higher, and the quickest way for hog prices to move higher is to cut production,” says Hurt, who produces a joint weekly outlook report with the University of Illinois' Darryl Good, who prepares the grain side of the reports.

But the fact is, hog producers have not yet flinched, and they are following a trend line that will carry them to the eighth consecutive year of growth in 2007, he reports. Pork production is expected to increase by 2% in 2007. While Midwest hog states have cut back on sow numbers, according to the latest Hogs and Pigs Report, the eastern Corn Belt has more than offset that decline by adding numbers, Hurt says.

Pork exports continue to boost hog prices, which have experienced 15 consecutive years of growth, while domestic consumption of pork has practically stayed flat, only increasing incrementally by population growth, he explains.

With pork exports expected to moderate this year, and USDA predicting growth limited to just 5%, Hurt is advising producers to heed the potential warning signs and make management adjustments accordingly.

“These are going to be difficult years of transition in 2007 and 2008, and the only way to get through them is to diversify your buying needs throughout the year and find a way to cut 3-5% of U.S. production,” he says.

If the corn crop meets projections of 90 million acres, yields reach 152 or higher and hog prices stay lodged in the upper $40s, it's possible that producers could cover all costs and maybe record a small profit at times in 2007 and record a breakeven year. That could help bolster bottom lines and survival until profitability returns in late 2008 and into 2009, Hurt predicts.

But producers need to tighten their belts to get through this transition, basing buying and selling decisions on their current marketing situation, not relying on emotion to make those decisions, because those almost always turn out wrong, he stresses.

Production Changes Unpopular

Cutting production is seldom a popular message for producers. But Hurt stresses it's vital that producers soon embrace downsizing for the industry to attain higher prices and hold down production costs.

Similarly, he remembers being dispatched to the Midwest in the early- to mid-‘90s, during a period of rapid change when farmers were struggling to survive.

His highly unpopular message was that the industry was evolving from small-farm production dynamics to a larger, much different kind of hog business that was more integrated and focused on improving efficiencies and lowering the cost of production.

During those changing times, Hurt recalls many Midwestern states responded by floating anti-corporate farming laws as a way to constrain and stop this trend. They also developed environmental laws to restrict large-scale operations.

But most of these actions have met with limited success. As a prime example, Hurt points to the recent ruling that found Nebraska's anti-corporate farming law, I-300, unconstitutional.

Minnesota and Iowa producers survived the '90s transition in larger numbers than some other states by embracing ownership in sow cooperatives as a way for smaller hog producers to “look” big while retaining their independence, he comments.

In contrast, Indiana's hog industry has shrunk considerably, as small producers chose to stay strictly independent. Many of those stalwarts were forced out of business when margins tightened during the late '90s, according to Hurt.


Hurt has received three agricultural economics degrees — a bachelor's from the University of Illinois in 1971, followed by a master's from Cornell University in 1973 and a PhD from the University of Illinois in 1981.

After receiving his master's degree, he worked for Cargill in commodity grain marketing for a few years in Minnesota and Georgia, until the urge to raise hogs struck again.

He expanded the family hog operation to 120 sows and invested in quite a few new buildings. “I wanted to have an opportunity to have my own business. Cargill gave me a lot of experience in making decisions, so I wanted to try it for myself.

“This was not an unusual move in the mid-‘70s. It was still a time when quite a few young people did go back to the farm — and it was really the last time in the history of American agriculture that agriculture drew people back to the farm,” he says.

And his operation prospered. Using his marketing expertise and the record-high hog prices, he paid off the building investments in about three years.

But after a short time, the lure of college and the lack of interaction with others returned, and he resumed his college education, pursuing his PhD.

He continued to raise hogs, but on his way back home to the farm one day after attending classes, he stopped at Mattoon, the home of Lakeland Community College, to inquire about teaching prospects. That was on a Friday. He started teaching introductory agricultural economics at the school the following Monday.

He counts that as three jobs from 1978 to 1980 — his schooling, teaching and raising hogs.

As time went by, the workload grew too much and he started selling off sows. By the time he received his PhD in 1981, the hog operation was nearly defunct.

At that time, he had tenure at Lakeland, but searched for other opportunities, landing a position at Purdue in the area of commodity marketing with teaching, research and Extension appointments.

He attempted to revive the small hog operation, but by 1983 became convinced that the economic model would not stand the test of time.

Hog, Grain Outlook

Today, Hurt's appointment at Purdue is 70% in Extension and 30% in teaching, and he spends much of his time on the speakers' circuit throughout Indiana and other states, providing detailed outlook information.

With an adequate corn supply being one of the critical questions facing the pork industry, Hurt envisions that some progressive pork producers will align themselves with grain suppliers in what he is calling “end-user supply contracts.”

“We think this concern about grain supplies is really going to push large pork and poultry producers, in particular, toward supply contracts,” he continues. “One of the parts of that arrangement will be — when you raise corn, you raise corn for us. The second component of that contract will be determining what type of corn you are going to raise for us.”

In other words, grain supply contracts will eventually lead to pushing the genetic envelope and call for a specific type of corn to be produced. For example, a high-starch corn could be grown for ethanol production, while another type of corn could be raised to provide optimum nutrition for hogs.

The result could be a grain industry that becomes much more coordinated, such as what has happened in the hog industry. No one thought in 1990 that about 20 large producers could ever dominate the hog industry. But in fact, 80% market domination only took 10 years.

Looking 10-20 years into the future, Hurt projects that to survive and be successful, pork producers will need to control costs by implementing an integrated system of production all the way from the farm to the retail sector.
Joe Vansickle, Senior Editor

Continue to next Master: Don Levis >

Jump to:
Bob Dykhuis | Jill Appell | Bob Baarsch | Roy Schultz, DVM | Chris Hurt | Don Levis | Temple Grandin | Alan Sutton | Gary Cromwell | Allen E. Christian

Don Levis

Destined to work with pigs.

Some people are simply destined to work with pigs. Don Levis is one of those people.

Born and raised in south-central Iowa, Levis and his twin brother accounted for two-thirds of the class in a one-room schoolhouse where his formal education began. Much of his youth was spent on the family's 420-acre, diversified farm near Allerton, IA, which included dairy, beef, turkeys, sheep and 30 sows, farrow-to-finish.

Family pictures show the Levis twins sitting on the ground surrounded by little pigs. For a 4-H demonstration project, Levis constructed a farrowing crate model made from wooden sticks. “I wish I had saved it,” he says earnestly.

Levis' father built the first modified, open-front feeding floor in Wayne County. “I remember pouring the concrete and building our own wooden self-feeders,” says the recently appointed University of Nebraska swine Extension specialist at Concord.

Entering his late teens, each step drew him closer to a career in the pork industry.

He attended Northeast Missouri State University with hopes of returning to the farm. But Uncle Sam had other ideas and he was drafted into the army. Not excited about a tour of duty in Vietnam, Levis quickly enlisted in the Air Force and within days started a 3½-year stint. When he was discharged, they asked if he wanted the GI bill. “I said sure. Then they asked what degree I wanted. Although I didn't really know what it was, I checked PhD,” he recalls.

Levis returned to Northeast Missouri State and finished the year remaining on his BS degree. His father didn't favor a college graduate returning to the farm, however.

So, Levis took a job driving an 18-wheeler, hauling cattle, sheep and hogs throughout the summer. At 2 a.m. one morning, he swung the big rig into a sales barn in Maryville, MO. No sooner had he set the air brakes when the passenger side door of the Kenworth swung open, and in climbed his twin brother. “Been waitin' for you,” he said. “We had a family meeting and we don't think you need to be driving a truck. I talked to Dr. (Donald) Shelby over at the animal science department (Northwest Missouri State University) and he said he'd take you as a graduate student. Here are the papers.”

Levis said he'd think about it. Freshly loaded and miles down the road, he pulled over to rest and pondered the graduate student opportunity. “There's got to be a better way of living than this,” he remembers thinking.

Soon he was working with production records from hog farms, under the guidance of Dr. Shelby. “He got me excited about reproductive physiology and the science behind it,” Levis proclaims.

With a new master's degree in hand, Shelby encouraged Levis to go on to get a PhD. “I didn't know if I was smart enough, but Dr. Shelby said, ‘you won't get all A's, but you can get through it.’”

With that encouragement, Levis planned to shift his focus to beef cow reproductive physiology at South Dakota State University. Again, fate stepped in. Shortly before arriving, his intended professor/advisor announced he'd taken his dream job as an Oklahoma State Extension beef specialist. Levis was reassigned to a sheep physiologist — not exactly what he had in mind — so he approached George Libal and Richard Walstrom about openings on the swine side and was assigned to work with heterospermic insemination in pigs.

“I decided I liked working with pigs,” he says. Awarded a PhD in 1976, Levis was relatively certain he didn't want to be a lab scientist, so his new goal was an Extension position working with pork producers.

His timing couldn't have been better as he landed a North Carolina State University area swine specialist position stationed in Sampson County, NC, where immense growth in pork production was occurring. His good fortune held as his training included shadowing Charles Stanislaw, “who knew everything from the kind of fly bait that worked best to how to properly ventilate a hog building,” Levis states. “He was probably my main mentor on the pork industry and how to work in it.”

Responsible for 19 counties, Levis set a goal of visiting each county at least once a month. “Often, I would visit 4-5 farms a day. Back then, we weren't really concerned about diseases.”

About 2½ years later, a general livestock specialist position opened up at the University of Nebraska, located at USDA Meat Animal Research Center (MARC) in Clay Center, NE. Again, the move corresponded with growth in the pork industry. “Even in Nebraska it started to grow, so I spent nearly all of my time working with swine,” he reflects. Eventually, it became a full-time swine position — 75% extension, 25% research.

Of his research at MARC, he says, “That was probably the best thing I could do, because I got to work with sexual behavior in sows and boars. I got to apply my research work to the farm — and that gave me more credibility.”

The true value began to take shape as he developed the Levis Swine Breeding System, a design concept for housing boars and sows in separate rooms. The system required the sows to be brought to meet the boars in a breeding pen where fresh exposure improved estrous detection. The design was easily adapted as artificial insemination gained acceptance in swine.

“Another thing I liked about the system was when we brought the sows to the boar, they would ‘lock up,’ so we could train employees on how a sow acts and what she looks like when she's in good standing heat,” Levis says.

The Levis System has been adopted throughout the United States and around the world.

Significant Industry Changes

Levis lists the implementation of confinement, the adoption of artificial insemination and the emphasis on biosecurity as some of the biggest changes he's seen in his 30-plus years of Extension work.

He began working with artificial insemination in 1972. “I couldn't get anybody interested,” he says. “The reason it didn't take off right away was that we didn't have the right equipment or procedures developed. Some people had excellent results, while the next guy had a total disaster. Everyone remembered the total disasters. Once we fine-tuned everything, it really took off.”

Industry's Biggest Challenges

Levis lists four: animal welfare, ethanol's impact on feed prices, the environment — particularly air quality, — and the industry workforce.

“In the long term, I don't think we'll be able to keep gestation stalls,” he says. “It's a feeling issue, not a scientific issue.”

Levis thinks the industry should try to retain the use of stalls for the first 30-40 days after weaning — for the welfare of the sow and to insure they are safely pregnant.

“The biological reason is the sow has to receive the pregnancy signal at Day 10, 11 or 12. The embryos come down and make a fragile, sticky attachment (to the uterine wall) and send the estrogen signal. We don't want to disturb that because it is a delicate situation. The embryos can't implant, totally, until about Day 28,” he adds.

The hardcore welfarists say they are only interested in the welfare of the sow. “In my mind, the welfare of the sow is she needs to be pregnant,” Levis says. “That's her function in life and we need to do everything we can, welfare-wise, to reestablish her pregnancy.

“If it comes down to keeping them out of stalls from the time they are weaned until they farrow again, I think it will create problems. Farrowing rate will probably drop 5-10% and litter sizes will go down by ½ pig, maybe more.”

Fighting sows is inevitable. “You can't tell these sows they've got to quit fighting. They're going to establish that hierarchy,” he says. “The critical question is, how big should the groups be?”

Levis also sees maintaining an effective workforce as a major challenge to the industry. “Employees want to be part of the whole business; they are not assembly-line workers,” he asserts.

He offers this novel incentive program for keeping employees interested — personally and financially. “Assign 10 sows to each worker on Jan. 1, but don't tell them which sows are theirs. At the end of the year, each worker will get the net income from those 10 sows.

“The workers in the breeding barn will do the best they can, because each sow could be one of their sows. In gestation, the workers will take better care of each sow for the same reason. Likewise, in farrowing. They will take good care of the sows and litters because they want to get as many pigs as possible, because any sow could be one of theirs.

“Besides the financial rewards, it makes them feel like they are part of the operation,” he reasons. Levis thinks it's worth a try, assuming there are no legal or liability issues to confound the plan.

Fulfilling Career Choice

Whether he picked pigs, or pigs picked him, Levis is genuinely grateful for his career in Extension. “I always enjoy going to the farm and actually helping solve a problem. When I retire, I won't need a big celebration to have people tell me I've done a good job, because pork producers express their appreciation to me for helping solve their problems nearly every day,” he says.

Reflecting on the best advice he's gotten in his career, Levis remembers his major professor, Donald Shelby, gave him the soundest advice of all shortly before he defended his master's thesis: “Engage your brain before your mouth.”

And he remembers a thoughtful discussion with the late Lauren Christian at a meeting in Iowa. Concerned that his administrators thought he should spend his time in Nebraska, Christian offered: “Do what's best for the pork industry.”

“But when I tie it all together and ask myself who influenced me the most, I keep coming back to the pork producers, because they're the ones who have been driving me,” he adds.
Dale Miller, Editor

Continue to next Master: Temple Grandin >

Jump to:
Bob Dykhuis | Jill Appell | Bob Baarsch | Roy Schultz, DVM | Chris Hurt | Don Levis | Temple Grandin | Alan Sutton | Gary Cromwell | Allen E. Christian

Temple Grandin

Speaker, author and animal scientist gives voice to animals.

Through her work, Temple Grandin has tried to improve the lives of farm animals by designing welfare-friendly livestock handling systems on the farm and at meat plants in several countries and across North America.

The handling systems embody Grandin's unique gift of autism, which enables her to visualize and empathize with flight and fear principles she shares in part with the animal kingdom.

Instead of thinking in words, her world as an autistic person revolves around pictures, and her mind files and categorizes every thought as visual images, much like a film library.

“My mind works just like Google for images. I don't think in the abstract at all,” she explains. “Everything in my life is organized visually.”

Exposure to Agriculture

Growing up in Dedham, MA, outside Boston, she yearned to become an experimental psychologist because of her fascination with visual illusions, fueled by a film she saw in high school that dealt with spatial distortions.

But Grandin's first real taste of agriculture, when she visited a ranch in Arizona owned by her stepfather's sister, changed all that. Then, all the teenager wanted to talk about was livestock handling.

“The visual perception thing carried over into my later work with animals, because pigs and cattle balk at shadows on the ground and reflections, and it all seemed so obvious to me,” she says. “Right at the beginning, I can remember back in the '70s, when I first started working with cattle, I got down into the chute to see what the animals were seeing, and people thought I was crazy doing that.”

In those days, Grandin was working on her master's degree in animal science at Arizona State University (she graduated in 1975), and writing a livestock column for the Arizona Farmer and Rancher magazine, without the benefit of any formal training in journalism.

She launched Grandin Livestock Handling Systems, Inc. in 1980, completed her PhD in animal science from the University of Illinois in 1989, and later joined the faculty at Colorado State University (CSU). Today she teaches courses on livestock behavior and livestock facility design.

Successful Career

She is considered one of the most successful high-level functioning adults with autism. Her career in agriculture bears that out. In North America, almost half of the cattle are handled in a center track restrainer system that she designed for meat plants. Curved chute and race systems she designed for cattle are used worldwide. Her writings on the flight zone and other principles of grazing animal behavior have helped many people to reduce the stress on their animals during handling.

Grandin has also developed an objective scoring system to assess handling of cattle and pigs at meat plants. Many major corporations use this scoring system to improve animal welfare. She has also developed effective stunning methods for cattle and pigs at meat plants.

Her numerous videos and training tools have illustrated how to correct issues at a meat plant, like reflections from dripping water, seeing people through a space in equipment or shadows near a chute entrance, which can all cause animals to balk. “Not until you can find and correct all of these types of things can you put away the electric prods and improve animal welfare,” she stresses.

In 1999, Grandin organized and began conducting animal welfare audits of slaughter plants for McDonald's and Wendy's restaurants, among other clients.

“One of the biggest mistakes suppliers make is thinking they've found a new piece of technology that is instantly going to make the place wonderful. New technology definitely makes your work easier — but it doesn't replace good management,” Grandin points out. The staff must make the equipment compatible to achieve animal safety and proper animal welfare, she adds.

While most large meat plants are now doing a sterling job, she says three years ago when the organic market emerged, and she began working with plants supplying Whole Foods stores, many small plants were taken off their list of suppliers because of management issues.

Grandin is most proud of the American Meat Institute animal welfare auditing programs she developed, because for the first time in history, meat plants began to monitor how many cattle and pigs got an electric prod, how many animals fell down, the number of animal vocalizations and how many animals were improperly stunned.

One of Grandin's pet peeves regarding animal welfare is “when bad becomes normal,” whether it be at the plant or on the farm. With her input, major food corporations for which she consults have ramped up their animal welfare auditing programs and removed poor performers, she notes.

Animal Welfare Concerns

Grandin, professor of animal science at CSU, strongly defends her views opposing sow stalls in gestation.

“I think we need to get rid of sow stalls,” she says. She likens living in a sow stall to having to live on an airplane seat where you can't turn around. She conducted an unofficial survey several years ago on an airplane flight, asking what folks thought of gestation stalls. Most were opposed to their use, although they understood the need for farrowing crates.

Before stalls can be eliminated from use in gestation, however, Grandin emphasizes the swine industry must take strong steps to eliminate mean sows and embark on a program of producing gentler sows that can coexist in group housing.

“We have gone 20 years without formal culling pressure to get rid of sows that fight and are nasty,” she explains. “We have to get rid of these sows instantly because they teach other sows that kind of behavior.”

What she terms “crazy pigs” — the overly aggressive white-line grow-finish pigs — need to be removed from the industry because they perpetrate the mantra of “bad becoming normal.”

The industry needs to set a new direction of breeding gentler pigs that are easier to manage, easier to load at the farm and unload at the plant, she explains.

Balancing Biology

Grandin suggests the constant push to maximize livestock productivity has caused biology to lose its balance.

“An animal is like a country — you've got the military and the economy,” Grandin says. “The military is the immune system. Put everything into the economy (production) and you've got to take away from the military, leaving the military open to infection or invasion from pathogens. People say bioengineering can build a pig strong in immunity and production. But it takes energy to support those things. Push biological limits too far and you lose disease resistance.”

Grandin also reports she was one of the earliest advocates of the value of walking pens as a means of improving animal handling during load-out and at the slaughter plant.

Some 10-20 years hence, she foresees a different swine industry, made up of two basic camps. An organic-natural segment will make up 25% of the industry comprised of many different niches, while 75% will be a standard commercial industry.

Grandin, who will be 60 years old next summer (2008), still maintains a daunting travel schedule, and is on the road about 90% of the time. She has reduced international travel these days, preferring to stay within the confines of North America. She still serves as a livestock handling consultant and animal welfare auditor, but focuses a growing part of her energy on two main campaigns close to her heart: educating young people on the value of carrying on her pioneering work in livestock handling and design, and addressing parents on the many contributions that their autistic children can make to society.

Without autism, many of the technological breakthroughs in society, from electricity to computers, would be far less advanced, she notes.

Noteworthy Contributions

Grandin has contributed much to society, authoring and co-authoring numerous books on livestock handling and transport as well as a number of texts on autism. These can be sourced at her Web page,

In her lengthy career, she has received dozens of honors from Who's Who of American Women in 1990, Humane Award from the American Veterinary Medical Association in 1999, Richard L. Knowlton Innovation Award from Meat Marketing and Technology Magazine in 2002, to an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Illinois in 2004, and was named to the Top 40 most influential people in the beef industry in 2004.
Joe Vansickle, Senior Editor

Continue to next Master: Alan Sutton >

Jump to:
Bob Dykhuis | Jill Appell | Bob Baarsch | Roy Schultz, DVM | Chris Hurt | Don Levis | Temple Grandin | Alan Sutton | Gary Cromwell | Allen E. Christian

Alan Sutton

Devoted to pork producers and students.

Alan Sutton, professor of animal science at Purdue University since late 1971, has been steadfast in his occupational goals since he joined the faculty of the West Lafayette, IN, school 35 years ago.

The modest scientist has stayed service-oriented, helping pork producers with swine nutrition and nutrient management issues, and students with getting an education, and providing students with some valuable lessons about life and faith.

Easy Career Choice

Born in Farmington, IL, on a small, diversified livestock and grain farm, Sutton always enjoyed agriculture and animals, and because of his college experience became enthused about research and education for producers and students.

He earned bachelor and master's degrees in animal sciences and animal nutrition, respectively, at Iowa State University. He completed his educational training with a doctoral degree in animal nutrition from Cornell University.

Despite his emphasis on ruminant nutrition, Sutton ended up taking a position at Purdue University that called for a 70% focus on swine in research and Extension work. His other duties are 10% focus each on poultry, dairy and beef.

Speaking candidly, he recalls: “There weren't many faculty positions or even industry positions open in mid-1971, and this new position came up at Purdue in the area of animal waste management.”

The job interested him because it primarily involved working to meet the requirements of a new law. Indiana was one of the first states to have a confined feeding operation rule.

His position initially was 80% research and 20% Extension. His main research objective was to help producers effectively use animal manure as a nutrient resource while limiting the threat of pollution. That straightforward goal has provided many challenges during his long career at Purdue.

“One thing I did stress, even with those early studies, was to try to look at the impact of diet formulation on manure composition and its impact on crop production,” Sutton stresses. Some early work included studying the impact of growth promotant levels of copper on the pig and the environment, as well as researching the influences of feeding different levels of salt and on sodium buildup in the soil.

“Purdue was one of the first schools to have a nutrient management program,” he says, and its program emphasis has survived the ensuing decades. He offers this timeline:

  • As it started out in the '70s, when animals were being brought into confinement, the emphasis was on manure management and getting value out of the manure.

  • During the '80s, research funding in this area virtually dried up, and Sutton turned his attention to the impact of microorganisms in the digestive tract of the pig, looking at the effect of feed additives and probiotics on the diet. It was a time when there was a lot of attention placed on researching substitutes for antibiotics in swine diets, he says.

  • In the '90s, the focus turned back to a heavy research effort focused on diet manipulation to reduce nutrient excretion as the Environmental Protection Agency ramped up regulation of farms. The difference from the '70s, says Sutton, is the new emphasis on the impact of odor and gas emissions from hog barns, along with concerns about water quality. The focus continues in the current decade.

One of Sutton's remaining major projects is a joint research effort with Rick Koelsch of the University of Nebraska. The project, funded by Pork Checkoff, involves studying parameters needed to achieve whole-farm nutrient balance.

Participating are 4-5 farms each from Nebraska, Iowa and Indiana that have been willing to share their records to evaluate the amount of nutrients that are brought onto, and taken off, the farm, he explains.

The data accumulated will be used to develop programs to avoid an over-abundance of nutrients on hog farms, which could potentially impact water quality or air quality.

Of particular help in the area of air quality in other projects funded by USDA is Purdue's two-year-old Swine Environmental Research Building. The wean-to-finish facility features 12 identical, self-contained rooms with separate ventilation and 6-ft-deep manure pits. Actually, each room has two distinct manure pits, which have tested whether air emissions are improved by flushing out the manure monthly, or by retaining the manure in storage and pumping it out to an above-ground Slurrystore system at the end of the production cycle. The two manure pits are also valuable for split-sex feeding of barrows and gilts to assess manure composition. Rooms hold 60 pigs each.

Additional air quality research headed by Purdue animal scientist Scott Radcliffe and Brian Richter, comparing low-nutrient excretion diets with control diets, is expected to show significant reductions in nitrogen excretion and ammonia and hydrogen sulfide gases.

Sutton defends swine industry research in this area against critics, emphasizing that the goal is to produce science-based research that will hopefully provide pork producers with the tools they need to improve pork production and protect the environment.

Sutton's goals includes investigating byproduct feeds, such as dried distiller's grains with solubles, glycerol and other feed alternatives, and their impact on nutrient utilization, nutrient excretion and gaseous emissions.

During this time, his Extension work will center on helping to develop a feed management curriculum, Web-based learning center and fact sheets and tools to train and inform educators, producers, legislators and the public in the use of feed management practices for efficient pork production, protecting the environment and to assist policymaking of federal, state and county animal feeding operation regulations.

Sutton currently serves as a member of the National Pork Board Environment Committee and is domain editor of environmental stewardship for the Pork Information Gateway.

Outstanding Mentors

Reflecting his service-oriented and team focus, Sutton has been named Department of Animal Sciences counselor from 1992 to 1997 and again in 2005-2006. He served on the Purdue College of Agriculture Team in 2005. He received the Indiana Pork Producers Industry Meritorious Service Award in 2003. He served as Midwest Section director of the American Society of Animal Science from 1998 to 2002.

His mentors are virtually too many to mention, he says, but he cites former Purdue animal scientists Vern Mayrose, Jim Foster and long-time agricultural engineer Don Jones.

Bright Future

Sutton has given much thought to the future of the swine industry. He foresees much more sophisticated, specialized operations that will pursue precision feeding of pigs based on genetics and nutrient availability, innovative diet formulations that may include new, genetically derived sources of feeds or partial replacement of corn as the main staple of the diet, providing new energy sources that improve efficiency and that remain in balance with the environment.

His best advice to be successful: “Do your best and be thorough. Encourage others and be a team player, and be willing to say you don't know, but you will try to find the answer.”
Joe Vansickle, Senior Editor

Continue to next Master: Gary Cromwell >

Jump to:
Bob Dykhuis | Jill Appell | Bob Baarsch | Roy Schultz, DVM | Chris Hurt | Don Levis | Temple Grandin | Alan Sutton | Gary Cromwell | Allen E. Christian

Gary Cromwell

Researcher makes his mark in Kentucky.

For many scientists, it may take a decade or longer to find their niche, and that search can take them to several different locales. But for Gary Cromwell, the job fit was immediate in what has turned out to be a lifelong career at the University of Kentucky.

Come June, Cromwell will have amassed 40 years in a career of research and teaching swine nutrition in the Animal Sciences Department at the Lexington, KY, university.

He received his bachelor's degree of science in agriculture education from Kansas State University in 1960, and then worked for the first four years of his career as a vocational agriculture instructor in Kansas.

Then he attended Purdue University, where he received his master's degree in animal nutrition in 1965, followed by his PhD in animal nutrition (with a focus on swine) from Purdue University in 1967.

For the Salina, KS, native, the move to the University of Kentucky proved to be a good fit. He accepted an assistant professorship position, with the idea that he would probably stay for a few years before heading back to his native Kansas.

But he and his wife and three children quickly fell in love with the Blue Grass state, and the position was exactly what Cromwell wanted.

“I had an offer from Kentucky and wanted to teach at the college level, and took this position and just never left,” Cromwell recalls.

A Full Career

Cromwell's plate has been full. Responsibilities include:

  • Leader of the Swine Research Group at the University of Kentucky;

  • Actively involved in swine nutrition research and teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in swine nutrition and management;

  • Coordinator of the Feed Processing Center for the Animal Science Department; and

  • Since 2001, served in a shared faculty appointment (20%) with Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, the division of USDA that oversees federal research funding to university experiment stations.

During his career, Cromwell's research has run the gamut: refining the estimates of amino acid and mineral requirements of swine; determining the bioavailability of minerals in feedstuffs for pigs and chicks; evaluating sources and high levels of copper as growth promotants for young pigs; evaluating novel feed ingredients in starter and grow-finish diets; evaluating the efficacy of carcass-enhancing agents; assessing feedstuff variability; determining the nutritional value of genetically enhanced grains, oilseed meals and other feedstuffs for pigs and chicks; and more recently, evaluating phytase and other dietary manipulations to reduce nutrient pollution and odor in the environment.

But one of his main areas of emphasis through the years has been determining the efficacy and safety of feed additives, specifically antibiotics, for swine.

In that regard, Cromwell has served as a spokesman for the swine industry in defending the value of feeding antibiotics to pigs.

“Forty years ago when I started, antibiotics were under pressure, and many thought that we were going to lose antibiotics. Well, that didn't happen. But there probably is more pressure today than there ever has been.

“But the facts are still there that antibiotic resistance hasn't really changed that much. A lot of the problems that we see in humans, some try to tie to antibiotic use in animals, but it hasn't been documented,” Cromwell says.

In fact, studies have shown animals that have not been fed any antibiotics at all still have a fairly high level of resistance. A case in point was the University of Kentucky's own swine herd at Princeton, which carried a fairly high level of resistance to antibiotics, despite the fact that it was never fed or treated with antibiotics during the final 25 years of its existence, he explains.

Cromwell wonders if a complete ban on antibiotics would have much, if any, effect on resistance levels. Recent information from Europe indicates that some types of resistance in certain microorganisms have actually increased since the EU instituted a ban on the use of antibiotics as feed additives.

Research Leader

For his part, Cromwell has certainly been a prolific researcher and leader in his field. Some of his activities include:

  • Chairing the National Research Council's (NRC) Committee on Animal Nutrition from 1979 to 2002;

  • Chairing an NRC subcommittee that prepared the 10th edition of Nutrient Requirements of Swine, the most widely used publication on swine nutrition in the world (last published in 1998);

  • Chairing for many years the Federation of Animal Science Society (FASS) Food Safety, Animal Health and Animal Drugs Committee and its forerunner, the American Society of Animal Science Regulatory Agencies Committee;

  • Serving as non-ruminant section editor for the Journal of Animal Science; and

  • Serving as president of the American Society of Animal Science (ASAS) in 1989-1990.

Cromwell was honored by the ASAS in 2002 with the Morrison award, the organization's most distinguished research award. Previously, he received two other ASAS awards, the American Feed Industry Association Nutrition Award and the Animal Industry Service Award. He was also named an ASAS Fellow in 2003.

In 2005, he was the recipient of the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture Outstanding Faculty Award for graduate student training. During his career, he has directed or co-directed the training of 65 graduate students in swine nutrition.

He was honored by Purdue University's Animal Sciences Department in 2003 as a distinguished alumnus for lifetime achievement.

In all, Cromwell has published over 150 refereed journal papers, more than 800 scientific abstracts, symposium papers and technical papers and 23 book chapters.

Cromwell says that one of the greatest pleasures in his academic life has been the training of graduate students. Many of these have gone on to successful careers in academia or as nutritionists in the feed industry.

Cromwell, 68, says a few of his former graduate students are already retired. But he's still having too much fun to think about retiring.

Instead, he plans to continue research and teaching, at least for a few more years. He has a special goal of completing the publication of results of research studies in technical journals which, to date, have only appeared as abstract reports.

Devotion to his job stems from his parents and peers. His father, Harold, taught him the value of hard work and always continuing to learn. Bill Smith, his high school vo-ag teacher, and Don Good, livestock judging coach at Kansas State University, taught him appreciation for agriculture, and Virgil Hayes, retired animal scientist from the University of Kentucky, was instrumental early on in helping a young assistant professor stay on the right track and apply scientific principles to research endeavors.

New Challenges

Times have changed, but Cromwell is adapting to the new challenges.

On the research side, grants are fewer and farther between, and nutritional challenges have definitely escalated as the industry ramps up production numbers.

“We wean nearly twice as many pigs as we did years ago, and pigs are weaned at much younger ages. Pigs now reach 40 lb. in six weeks. It used to be if you had an 8-9-week-old pig weigh 40 lb., you were doing pretty good. And market weights have escalated from 180-220 lb. to an average of about 270 lb. Pigs at that weight can still be quite lean.”

There are also new teaching challenges. Graduate students come armed with more technical expertise, but fewer roots in agriculture. Many of them now are women, virtually the polar opposite of decades earlier. And many more applicants today are international students.

But Cromwell accepts the teaching challenge, and hopes he can help keep the graduate degree program for swine nutrition afloat for a few more years.

Maybe then he will comply with his family's wishes that he retire and more fervently pursue other passions such as spending more time with his grandchildren, and refining his skills in woodworking and golf.
Joe Vansickle, Senior Editor

Continue to next Master: Allen E. Christian >

Jump to:
Bob Dykhuis | Jill Appell | Bob Baarsch | Roy Schultz, DVM | Chris Hurt | Don Levis | Temple Grandin | Alan Sutton | Gary Cromwell | Allen E. Christian

Allen E. Christian

Coach, teacher, mentor

Al Christian is closing in on five decades of service to Iowa State University (ISU) as herdsman of the Swine Teaching Farm. Soon to be 73, his enthusiasm for the job has not waned since he arrived in 1959.

From a close-knit family, the Christian children's birth order included a pair of boys, Al and Lauren, a sister in the middle, then another pair of boys, Duane and Dean. The pairs became playmates.

“My poor sister was alone. She didn't become a tomboy, although she had every opportunity to do so,” says Al, with his characteristic grin.

The Christian name, in many respects, is synonymous with the pork industry. Family patriarch, Francis, was a widely respected Duroc breeder; Lauren became an internationally renowned swine geneticist; and Duane and Dean were active in the production and marketing of purebred swine.

Raised on a diversified farm near LaPorte City, IA, the Christian children were exposed to purebred livestock at an early age. “My father never really instructed us on what kind of pigs we should like,” Al remembers. “But he gave us an opportunity for input, and he was wise enough to allow us to be a part of things.”

Their 4-H club work quickly centered on swine projects. “Lauren actually got hooked quicker than I did,” Al says. “But it wasn't long before I got hooked, too. We loved the competitive nature of the county and state fairs.”

As fate would have it, the very first county fair judge Christian faced was Wilbur Plager, a widely known swine judge and pork industry leader. At just 12 years of age, he won the championship ribbons in the Duroc boar, gilt and litter divisions.

“This one-armed judge, Mr. Plager, made quite an impression on me,” he recalls. “And as time went on, I became kind of a student of his philosophy. He was a radical thinker; he could really stimulate your thoughts in an old barnyard fashion. He was one of those guys you don't forget, and over the years he became one of my mentors.”

As he approached high school graduation, Christian also developed an interest in becoming a high school teacher and coach. He received a scholarship to a small college, but as the time drew near, he felt reluctant to abandon his true interest — pigs.

He shifted his focus back to farming and raising purebred hogs. Uncle Sam had other ideas, however, and he was soon drafted.

With his military obligation fulfilled in the fall of 1958, Christian returned to the home farm, rented some land and took a job at the John Deere plant. Land prices and rental costs climbed, and it looked increasingly unlikely that the home farm would support two families.

Brother Lauren, then attending graduate school at the University of Wisconsin, had worked at the ISU Swine Teaching farm while getting his B.S. degree and knew that the herdsman, Merle Shearer, was leaving for health reasons. The ISU herd had a handful of five different breeds and actively competed at the International Livestock Exposition in Chicago. Christian was interested.

He interviewed for the job in the summer of 1959. In September, Christian and his wife, Shirley, moved to Ames, IA, where he launched his career as swine herdsman.

Christian dug into the challenge of improving the quality of the swine herd as a series of administrative changes took place in the animal science department. In 1965, Lauren Christian joined the ISU animal science staff and became Al's immediate supervisor. The Christian brothers were once again a team.

The Christians and Ed Kline teamed up on a special project in which they took the frozen carcasses of a fat, low-grade market hog and a modern meat-type hog and cut them into cross sections to illustrate the differences that using quality genetics could make. Photos of the cross-sections were used widely throughout the pork industry in the '60s and '70s.

An unpleasant surprise also awaited those in the race to develop the meat type hog. It came in the form of a stress gene. Christian joined that race, focusing on breeding lean, heavy-muscled hogs in the ISU herd.

Occasionally, an extremely heavy-muscled pig would become rigid and their skin would get blotchy. Often, they would die. “Whenever we posted them, the muscle was always white and the pigs were always rigid,” Christian remembers.

David Topel and Lauren Christian worked hard to identify the cause of this malady, eventually developing a test to identify the presence of the stress gene.

The ISU herdsman takes some credit for that discovery. “I chided my brother and Dr. Topel about that, reminding them that if I hadn't been breeding for those little, heavy-muscled hogs, they never would have discovered that gene,” he says, with his tongue placed firmly in his cheek.

Sought-After Judge

Throughout the years, Christian became a much sought-after swine judge. He has judged national-type conferences of the eight major breeds, many state fair shows, every major junior swine show in the United States, hundreds of county fairs, plus swine shows in Australia, Canada, Japan, Mexico and South Africa.

Christian also brought significant recognition to the ISU Teaching Farm by producing countless truckload champions, plus many market and breeding division winners at state fairs, type conferences and the National Barrow Show. Berkshires, Durocs, Hampshires, Landrace and Yorkshires are currently represented in the 100 plus sow herd.

“We try to provide a little bit of selection. I'm concerned about the generations coming up losing track of certain genetic lines. The role of purebred genetics in swine production is pretty damned important,” Christian emphasizes.

Glancing back over the nearly five decades of genetic and type changes, Christian says the pigs of the '90s come closest to the “ideal.”

“Prior to the recent trends we've seen in the show pig business, I really think we weren't too far from having the ideal hog,” he says. “We had come through so many different eras of change. I kept telling people that we were getting hogs way too lean. It hurt their production.

“But even after all the changes we've gone through, there are still definite breed differences. That's good, because you never know when you're going to need certain traits,” he says.

Christian has confidence that pork producers will be able to meet such challenges as moving away from gestation stalls or breeding more efficient hogs able to cope with high corn prices.

“We've got such a resilient industry. We adapt to change so rapidly, so well. There are so many innovative people out there that I'm sure we'll do the research and develop the systems that will solve some of these problems.”

Pig Evangelists Needed

“We've got to have a few (swine) evangelists out there, telling the history, reminding people of the experiences we've had and telling them what might be in store,” Christian says.

He sees a difference in the students that come through the university's animal science curriculum. Fewer have purebred backgrounds. Many are urban kids with pre-veterinary or agri-business ambitions.

“That's where we come in. It's why I think livestock at a university is a really important ingredient in the educational process,” he emphasizes.

His early ambitions to be a teacher and a coach have been channeled toward his relationship with ISU students. During the school year, 7-8 students work part-time in the teaching herd; 3-4 help in the summer months.

“Those kids are probably the reason I'm still here,” he says earnestly. “I enjoy watching them develop, seeing their sincere desire to learn, and in some small way, molding them a little bit, encouraging them, reinforcing them. It makes me feel good.”

He has some guiding principles for young people interested in the pork industry:

“Watch for opportunities. But, you have to know where you're at and where you think you want to be in order to take advantage of them.

“Be innovative in your thoughts;

“Be able to dream and develop;

“Be practical so you know what could work, what might not;

“Find your fit;

“Resolve to make whatever you're going to do — better.

“Probably the best advice I ever received also reflects the way we were brought up — abide by the golden rule,” he says. “If you're as lucky as I was to find a little niche to work on over the years, you will be a happy person.”

Would he change anything? “Sure, I'd change a few things, but I'd still want to be where I am right now,” he says.

As he nears the hallmark 50th year, an anniversary considered to be “golden,” Al Christian gives no hint of taking down his shingle. The Iowa State students and faculty will be all the better for his continued services.
Dale Miller, Editor

Jump to:
Bob Dykhuis | Jill Appell | Bob Baarsch | Roy Schultz, DVM | Chris Hurt | Don Levis | Temple Grandin | Alan Sutton | Gary Cromwell | Allen E. Christian

Circovirus Presents Unique Challenge

By now, I am confident that nearly everyone in the pork industry has read about, heard about, or unfortunately, had to deal with porcine circovirus Type 2 (PCV2).

The virus continues to demand our attention and research dollars as we focus our efforts on thwarting the effects of this challenging foe. Like the “bad guy” in the movies, this opponent continues to rear its ugly head.

Case Study No. 1

I was called to visit the nursery of a 1,500-sow, farrow-to-finish, well-managed system. The farm practices three-site production with nursery rooms that are flowed all-in, all-out. The farm was negative for porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS).

The primary complaint in the nursery was elevated mortality/morbidity, and the fact that the producer failed to see any response to individual pig treatments. Mortality had risen from a typical 2.5% to over 7%.

On the first pass through the nursery rooms, pigs appeared active, thrifty and were “bouncing off the walls.” As we circled back through the pigs, however, it was apparent that some pigs were thumping, breathing open mouthed and gaunt. No diarrhea was noted.

Diagnostic submissions revealed that affected pigs were positive for PCV2. As these pigs entered the finisher, mortality rates and culls rose.

Unfortunately, our treatment protocols, which included individual pig injections and a variety of feed and water medications, proved futile.

On a positive note, we received a small amount of the conditionally released, two-dose circovirus vaccine. We vaccinated several weeks' worth of pigs at weaning, with a second dose administered two weeks later; the vaccinated pigs performed exceptionally well.

Surprisingly, when no circovirus vaccine was available, the pigs appeared to go through the system with no real health issues.

However, after eight months of non-vaccinated pigs going through the system, clinical signs of PCV2 reappeared in the nursery. The farm has reinstated the vaccination program.

Case Study No. 2

A finishing site consisting of four, 1,000-head barns showed elevated death loss in two of the four barns. The four barns were filled in two weeks, with pigs from the same source herd.

On my visit, the pigs were experiencing diarrhea, thumping, gauntness and wasting. Pigs were approximately 14 weeks of age. The producer had not seen a response to individual pig treatments or to water medications.

High levels of circovirus Type 2 were found in multiple tissues. Mortalities in the final closeouts were close to 30%. Pigs in two of the barns were not affected and had typical mortalities of 4-5%.

Working with the systems' nutritionist, an “intensive care diet” was developed for other units breaking with PCV2. The diet had a lower crude protein level, replaced with synthetic amino acids to enhance the immune system. Vitamins and trace minerals were also elevated.

Vitamin E and selenium along with aspirin and numerous antibiotics were utilized in water treatments.

Testimonials from the producers suggested improved stool consistency and less diarrhea using the “intensive care diet.” The system now uses cirovirus vaccine when available.

Case Study No. 3

A 300-sow, farrow-to-finish producer reported death losses up to 30% in late nursery and early finisher pigs. The facility, a single-site, continuous-flow system, had dealt with PRRS for the last several years. Control of PRRS was with sow and piglet vaccination.

Diagnostics from our investigation yielded PCV2. After several months of high mortality rates, the farm received commercial vaccine. Pigs vaccinated at weaning responded very well.


PCV2 can be an extremely challenging foe, and has created sleepless nights for many producers and their veterinarians. Conventional treatment therapies have been unsuccessful in our hands, although commercial vaccines appear to be very effective.

We all look forward to more answers in dealing with PCV2 as the scientific community works to learn more about this virus.

In the meantime, we follow the lessons we have learned with PRRS virus and implement good biosecurity and production management practices.

Please refer to the new guide, “A Producer's Guide To Managing PCVAD”, sponsored by the National Pork Board and the American Association of Swine Veterinarians. The brochure provides specifics on biosecurity, health and production guidelines for production systems and replacement stock. Free copies can be obtained by calling the Pork Checkoff Service Center at 800-456-7675 or by clicking on the Pork Store link on the home page.

Smithfield-Premium Standard Farms Merger Approved

The Department of Justice's Antitrust Division has approved Smithfield Foods Inc.'s acquisition of Premium Standard Foods (PSF).

“The division found that the merged firm would continue to face significant competition in the sale of fresh and processed pork from its national competitors,” the department said in a news release. “Additionally, farmers who sell hogs or hog-raising services to the merged firm would have competitive alternatives that would deter the merged firm from lowering prices paid to the farmers.”

“This combination is a great strategic fit for Smithfield,” says C. Larry Pope, president and chief executive officer. “The acquisition of PSF fits well with our strong expertise in hog production and pork processing,” he adds.

Smithfield will purchase PSF for about $674 million in cash and stock and assume about $117 million of PSF's debt.

Smithfield, based in Smithfield, VA, is the nation's largest hog producer and processor with annual revenues exceeding $11 billion.

PSF, based in Kansas City, MO, is the second-largest hog producer and sixth-largest pork packer and processor, with annual revenues of about $900 million.

Tainted Hog Feed Probe Continues

Imports of contaminated wheat gluten and rice protein from China used to manufacture pet food and byproducts used in animal feed have led to the quarantine of hog farms in seven states.

The products in question were reportedly contaminated with melamine and melamine-related compounds, a potential source of concern to animal and human health.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) believe the chance of human illness from the consumption of meat of animals fed the contaminated product is very low.

Still, the FDA and USDA are convening a scientific advisory board to review the risk assessment. FDA maintains an import alert for these products sourced from China.

The affected states include California, Kansas, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Utah. The 6,000 hogs that ate adulterated feed have been quarantined and will be euthanized on farm, according to government officials. USDA has agreed to compensate producers for the animals.

Paul Sundberg, DVM, vice president of science and technology for the National Pork Board, says that while the number of hogs affected is very small, it is a regional concern, and a big issue as far as assuring consumers that their food is safe.

“Last year we marketed about 104 million pigs in the United States, so it's a very small portion,” he points out.

The contaminated feed incident could have been worse, but pork producers were able to document their feed purchases, thus allowing FDA to determine if hogs had eaten contaminated feed, he explains.

“It's important to keep records, because even in this melamine issue, there are producers who've fed dog food,” Sundberg says. “They've been able to show they're not really part of the issue.”

It's also important that producers document feed ingredients coming into the farm and what's actually been fed to hogs, he stresses.

The vast majority of pork producers will be unaffected by this issue because they feed corn-soy diets and don't use pet food as part of their hog rations, although the practice is perfectly legal, Sundberg says.

He says government officials have assured the pork industry that they have accounted for all of the affected hogs, but that they are continuing their investigation.

The National Pork Board's Web site is providing regular updates on the investigation at

Saluting the Masters

The 10 industry professionals profiled have over 300 years of active pork production experience.

Our annual “state of the industry” report is always one of the most interesting and invigorating issues to write and produce each year. I'm hopeful that you find this issue equally so as you read these pages.

The “Masters of the Pork Industry” interviews are particularly enlightening as it affords us the opportunity to explore the histories, motivations and visions of a diverse, hand-picked group of true professionals in the U.S. pork industry.

Joe Vansickle and I do our best to select these individuals from a broad array of disciplines throughout our industry.

We consider them “masters” for two reasons.

From a definitive point of view, the American Heritage Dictionary offers these fitting definitions:

  • The owner or keeper of animals.

  • One whose teachings or doctrines are accepted by followers.

  • An artist or performer of great and exemplary skill.

  • The captain.

  • An employer.

  • An expert.

  • One who holds a master's degree.

  • A worker qualified to teach apprentices and carry on the craft independently.

As you read through these Master's profiles, beginning on page 8, I'm certain you will recognize the owners, teachers, captains and employers — many with a master's degree — and most certainly those capable of teaching the many crafts associated with the production of top quality pork.

And, much as the widely recognized Masters golf tournament represents professional golfers at the pinnacle of their careers, we see our “Masters of the Pork Industry” as being leaders in their chosen fields, widely respected for their talent and mastery of pork production. All have long-standing records of accomplishments and contributions, and they continue to share those talents.

In all, our 10 Masters have tallied roughly 330 years of actively raising hogs or working in their respective professional careers. Hailing from nine different states, that's an average of nearly 33 years of pork industry experience and surely worthy of the title — Master.

Click here to jump to The Masters article

Iowa and Canada

As another major feature of our “state of the industry” editions, we traditionally profile the pork industry in a state or region. This year we've chosen to profile the state of Iowa, the long-standing national leader in annual hog marketings. We interviewed the usual suspects, collecting their thoughts about the trials and tribulations faced by the state's pork producers, as well as the opportunities within a state that promises to “grow on you” whenever you pass their welcoming sign at the state's borders.

We also called on Kevin Grier, senior market analyst at the George Morris Centre in Guelph, Ontario for an inside look at what is happening in the Canadian segment of the North American pork industry. Grier offers an update on the challenges and opportunities our northern neighbors face in the coming years.

We hope you enjoy this special edition of National Hog Farmer. If you feel someone is particularly deserving of having their talents and contributions profiled in next year's Masters series, please drop us a note or give us a call. We welcome your comments and suggestions.

Sow Housing Forum

Aside from the price of corn, there probably isn't a hotter topic in the North American swine industry than the challenges facing pork producers as they consider the sow-housing options of the future.

Pork producers and allied industry alike are clamoring to unearth research and personal experiences that can shed some light on the issue.

Many in the industry have never worked with group-housed sows, let alone treated them, vaccinated them or fed them in a group-housing environment. Some openly wonder how the genetic lines selected to survive and thrive in gestation stalls will get along in groups. Others debate whether small groups are better than large groups.

These topics and more will be addressed during the Sow Housing Forum on June 6th at the Marriott Hotel downtown Des Moines. The program features an all-star cast of pork industry researchers, specialists and pork producers who have witnessed and documented the welfare, nutrition, genetic, facility and labor challenges that group housing of sows surely presents.

National Hog Farmer and Pork Checkoff joined forces in developing the program. Chore-Time Hog Production Systems, Hubbard Feeds and the U.S. Pork Center of Excellence are supporting the program with their sponsorship.

There's still time to register. For additional information and the full program, go to or and click on “Sow Housing Forum.” The full program is also presented on page 63.

If you mention National Hog Farmer when you register, the early-registration fee of $50/person will still be granted.

Livestock Coalition Lends a Helping Hand

A new organization was launched to help grow new and existing livestock enterprises in Iowa, and navigate regulations and siting.

Despite rumors to the contrary, Iowa's hog industry is alive and well, stable and growing, according to the Coalition to Support Iowa's Farmers (CSIF).

Rex Hoppes, organization director for the Des Moines-based CSIF, says he sees resurgence in the state's hog industry. “Probably 90% or more of the work that we do is dealing directly or indirectly with pork production and those farmers wanting to build buildings — either independent farmers or contract growers for integrators.”

Crop farmers with experience in hogs are returning to the business, often driven by young family members interested in coming back to the farm, he says. Custom finishing creates an opportunity for this generation.

Most common are 2,400- and 4,800-head contract finishing sites on a small acreage and a 10- to 12-year bank note, building equity and retaining valuable manure nutrients, Hoppes says.

Explosive Growth

Colin Johnson, Iowa State University (ISU) Extension program specialist, spends about half his time on CSIF activities, mostly educating beginning farmers on how to site hog barns.

“We are seeing a tremendous number of barns built in the past year on the finishing side, providing opportunities for young people in pork production that probably haven't existed in about 10 years,” he says.

The average age of Iowa farmers is about 57, meaning that many of their children are near 30. Most are sons who've been working for other farmers or in town, because there wasn't enough income for two families, Johnson says.

Starting Out

Young hog farmer Andy Muff, 28, of Ventura, IA, is a slightly different case in point. He was raised on his family's small farrow-to-finish farm and attended ISU for four years with an emphasis on farm business management.

During high school and college, he ran a small hog and cattle operation that paid for his education.

After college, he helped his dad, while also working for a variety of different hog production companies.

The family hog operation involved farrowing until about 10 years ago, then evolved to feeding out hogs. About three years ago, his dad turned more responsibility over to Andy.

Muff decided the financial risk of remaining independent was too high, so he turned to contract production. At the home farm, he built one, 1,000-head confinement nursery, and converted the open-front finishers into small nurseries, for another 3,000 pig spaces.

Muff contacted CSIF and Johnson to help him investigate building his own contract finishing operation to match up with the contract nursery facilities at his parent's hog farm.

He says CSIF and Johnson expertly guided him through the regulatory and financial processes. He acquired 10 acres of land near the family farm, sited for two, 1,200-head grow-finish barns, finished last October. In the process, he nearly doubled the setbacks from the required 1,250 ft. to the nearest residence, and the location is 5,400 ft. to the nearest water source.

Odor modeling designed by ISU determined the site was fine (see sidebar). “The ISU work on odors really gave us a general platform to go to some neighbors to tell them that yes, there will be some hog odors, but the odor detection rate determined by the model means the odors will be weak.”

Muff receives pigs from Canada at his home nursery weighing 11-12-lb. At 40-50 lb., those pigs are transported to his finishing site.

Community Involvement

Muff admits disclosing personal and financial information about his hog business was tough, but it's helped him become better known and more accepted in the Ventura community.

“It changed our mindset and made us better producers. I can't give CSIF and Johnson enough credit in helping with everything from getting the loan to help with understanding contracts, banking, land, manure and hog odors.”

And there was another valuable lesson. A neighbor learned about his hog site before last October's open house, and before he could talk to neighbors. “The neighbor, who didn't know the facts, formed his own opinion and the next thing I knew, I read in the newspaper that I was building a 25,000-head finishing site,” recalls Muff. The coalition guided him on how to talk to the press and the neighbors.

Surprising Opposition

Wendell Davison of Garner, IA, was a 150-sow, farrow-to-finish producer until about 11 years ago, when he shifted to contract finishing. He started with two, 1,200-head finishers, then added several more, all close to the home farm.

He partnered with a production company 2½ years ago to contract finish. Then he built a 4,800-head, wean-to-finish site in partnership with his eldest son, who is finishing college at ISU this year, for a total of 11,000 finishing spaces.

The last building project was a mile away from home. “We just assumed that we weren't going to have any problems, but we found out otherwise when one individual started a petition drive.”

CSIF's Rex Hoppes provided valuable help, advising him to “be as forthcoming as you can about your plans,” Davison recounts.

In Davison's case, he endured the pain of going through a public hearing process, even though his latest venture met all of the state regulations for siting and setback.

Coalition's Goals

CSIF Executive Director Aaron Putze says the group has assisted more than 700 farm families, including 410 hog farmers, to provide educational outreach, enhance consumer awareness of progressive livestock farming, empower livestock farmers to speak out about their occupation and hold opponents accountable.

“It's a new day out there, and I think there are a lot of good reasons why neighbors have different expectations, and why farm families need to have different expectations as far as the importance of visiting with neighbors and communicating their intentions,” he says.

CSIF launched its “Good Neighbors Building Trust” campaign last November, the centerpiece of which is a 16-minute DVD that walks through everything a farm family needs to know to grow their livestock farms responsibly and successfully, Putze says.

Both city and rural residents are more mobile today, meaning that clashes and conflicts can surface over livestock production, he says.

CSIF was formed in late 2004 to help mitigate problems between the two groups. Also, an increasing number of farm families have expressed frustration over trying to navigate the ever-changing rules and regulations governing livestock in Iowa, Putze adds.

Producers also want help with networking opportunities, notes Hoppes, from commodity pork production to direct marketing and niche pork production strategies.

Putze and new CSIF field specialist Megan Ritter agree that farmers are increasingly seeing the value of public relations as being just as important as farming practices.

“Only 3.8% of Iowa's population farms, meaning that the other 96.2% doesn't farm, so you have quite an audience that needs to learn about what farmers do,” Putze explains.

Hoppes dispels siting fallacies about Iowa agriculture. “The big rumor around the pork industry is that Iowa is no place to put sows,” he says, noting there are many great locations left, especially in southern Iowa, provided the necessary steps are taken.

“Sometimes we have to tell farmers they don't have a good location for a new barn site,” Ritter notes.

“Or there are folks who've called for help after construction has started, or their barns are completed, and maybe they've made mistakes in siting, and we've chosen not to try and help those folks,” Hoppes stresses.

Odor Assessment Tool

Iowa State University's (ISU) Community Assessment Model provides a scientific siting tool to help identify the best places for proposed swine facilities, according to Colin Johnson, Iowa Pork Industry Center Extension program specialist.

Iowa has specified minimum separation distances for livestock and poultry operations depending on the number of animal units. But when it comes to odor transport, distance is not equal in all directions.

“The model basically takes into account wind patterns and orientation of the barn, plus animal inventory,” says Johnson, along with distances to public sites, including neighbors.

The computer model developed by ISU agricultural engineer Steve Hoff uses that data to formulate the total hours of potential odor exposure. Hours of odor exposure are reported for three odor concentrations: 2:1, 7:1 and 15:1.

An odor concentration of 2:1 means that it would take two volumes of fresh air mixed with one volume of odorous air to make the odor “barely detectable.”

Modeling is conducted for the period from March to October because that is when more people are outdoors, humidity is higher and predominant southerly winds result in more hog odor problems.

The model does not cover topography or changes in elevation of the land, says Johnson. Trees and shrubs, planted 100 to 150 ft. from barns, can have a great impact in reducing odor levels and visually blocking the public view of barns to reduce attention, he adds.

Iowa Pork Producers Wear White Hats

Despite the ever-increasing mountain of state regulations and pressure to protect the environment in Iowa, the state's pork industry has clearly met both challenges, according to Eldon McAfee, Des Moines, IA, agricultural attorney.

If you think back a few years when there were many Iowa hog farms that could be characterized by outdoor lots and concrete, and the old saying was “nothing cleans the floors like a 2-in. rain,” then it becomes easy to see how times have changed for the better, McAfee observes.

Today, Iowa pork producers are dealing with an almost dizzying array of state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) rules and legislation including requirements for siting and setbacks, manure management plans, master matrix, etc.

Now manure from hog farms is predominantly contained in concrete pits. Iowa law prohibits a confinement operation from discharging any manure.

And virtually all manure is worked into the ground, no longer surface applied, avoiding runoff and minimizing odor concerns, he says.

Wrongful Charges

Still, Iowa's pork producers face wrongful criticism for water quality issues, charges McAfee, who provides consulting and legal expertise on regulations and litigation for the Iowa Pork Producers Association and individual producers.

“I feel the pork industry in Iowa is the whipping boy for the environmental concerns. It is not accurate or fair to try and balance water quality improvements on the backs of pork producers. If we are not making progress in this state, it is because we are not focusing on other water quality issues that are the real problem,” he adds.

The Iowa DNR conducted a three-year study on air quality, and found just one case where there could have been a violation of air quality standards if a regulation had been in place.

The DNR continues to use stationary monitors to test for hydrogen sulfide and ammonia levels at various sites around the state without finding any indication of problems, he says.

Nuisance Suits Decline

Producers' clean record on the environment and the work of the Coalition to Support Iowa's Farmers have worked together to cut the number of nuisance lawsuits filed in Iowa, reports McAfee. Agricultural nuisance lawsuits, which deal mainly with livestock odor issues, attempt to prove that “an operation has caused an unreasonable interference with the use and enjoyment of property.”

The number of nuisance cases peaked at 13 in 2003, and have dropped back since then.

This year, McAfee counts seven cases pending. He says there are always “other issues in the background” that go beyond the nuisance suit itself, from retired farmers who don't think that a neighbor should expand his hog operation, to criticism of a neighbor who starts feeding hogs for an integrator.

McAfee says many cases surprisingly pit rural farmers against each other.

“We have on file right now a case where a hog farmer is suing a cattle feedlot neighbor alleging odor and water quality issues. We also have several cases where pork producers putting up new buildings are sued for nuisance by neighbors whom they grew up with and went to school with,” he says.

Onerous Legislation

McAfee says the state legislature continues to propose new, onerous laws for livestock. This year, a 42-page proposal included major increases in setback requirements that have no foundation in science. In general, the proposal was for a quarter-mile setback for small operations and a mile setback for large operations.

The environmental rules for livestock in Iowa are supposedly geared to protecting smaller producers McAfee says. But as the rules continue to squeeze more producers, and the focus extends to smaller producers, the rules may have the unintended consequences of driving small producers to become larger as the requirements become nearly the same for both groups.

McAfee can be reached at (515) 237-1188 or by e-mail at

Iowa Pork Industry Proves Resilient

At $4.3 billion, the Iowa pork industry comprised 54% of the total cash receipts for livestock and related products in the state, according to statistics for 2005 compiled by the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.

In the early 1900s, there were about 200,000 farms in Iowa that raised hogs in one fashion or another. Currently, that number is estimated to have dropped to around 9,600 hog farms.

Iowa's pig crop increased to 16.6 million head in 2006, up from 16.1 million head in 2005, and up from 15.3 million head in 2004. Iowa has ranked second to North Carolina in pig crop production since 1997.

Iowa producers retained their long-time number one ranking for hogs marketed in 2006, with 24.7% of all U.S. hogs marketed.

Hog prices in Iowa fell in 2006, with an average price recorded of $48.06/cwt.

Iowa's pork industry has been buffeted by the downturn of farming in the 1980s, and its sow herd has taken a big hit, punctuated by the record-low prices of the late '90s and emerging swine diseases such as porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS).

But it remains resilient and vibrant, fueled by a new generation of farmers vying to enter the business, says Rich Degner, executive director of the Iowa Pork Producers Association.

Hog operations have shrunk from 18,000 a few decades ago to about 9,600. The sow herd has declined from 1.4 million to just over 1 million head.

Degner reinforces obvious concerns about corn availability and price and the impact on profitability.

“Iowa pork producers with whom I interact are confident that the corn yields are going to be increasing and we are going to be able to feed the herd, and they are pretty optimistic that there is going to be profitability on the farm,” he remarks.

John Lawrence, Extension livestock economist at Iowa State University (ISU), adds that the sow herd in Iowa has stabilized. The next test will be the impact of grain prices on sow numbers.

“If we see sow farm numbers decline, I think it will come from those farms that are diversified, that see enough income coming from the crops that they have decided to get out of the hogs,” he says.

Lawrence says ISU has reworked its Estimated Returns to Livestock series, basing it on a 1,200-sow, farrow-to-finish model. That system reflects higher capital costs, but much lower production costs due to improved efficiencies, compared to the previous 160-sow, farrow-to-finish model.

“Obviously, as you increase the grain costs, producers will have higher costs in 2007 than they had in 2006,” he says. “But if you add a dollar to the cost of a bushel of corn and hold other costs constant, the increase in cost of production will come to $4-4.50/cwt.”

Lawrence says his reworked calculations now indicate that pork production will be profitable for most of 2007, making it the fourth-consecutive year of “black ink.”

He attributes that to a cost of production in the low $40s, and stronger hog prices than expected ($50/cwt.). He forecasts a $50/cwt. average in '07.

Feed Prices Spike Concern

Howard Hill, DVM, is the chief operating officer at Iowa Select Farms, a 150,000-sow, farrow-to-finish operation based in Iowa Falls that involves various contract systems to finish their pigs throughout the state.

As such, rising feed prices have already had a major impact on cost of production in Iowa's largest hog operation, he says, pushing up the cost of production by close to $15/hog.

“We try to protect ourselves through forward contracting of both corn and soybean meal commodities, and we have pretty well protected ourselves from even higher prices, but not from the supply issue,” Hill says.

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Health Issues

PRRS has wreaked havoc on a number of Iowa sow farms in pig-dense areas where reinfection is common.

Leon Sheets, 53, who owns a 27-year-old, 1,200-sow, farrow-to-finish operation at Ionia, IA, is the rare exception. Except for some minor blips through the years, he says his operation has come through unscathed due to:

  • In-house multiplication on-site, off-site at the main farm. Replacement gilts are weaned into a modular nursery, then acclimated in a finishing barn;

  • Replacement gilts vaccinated for PRRS in both nursery and finisher and

  • Twice a year the operation is mass-vaccinated for PRRS.

“The key thing is to keep PRRS quiet, and it has really worked,” he says.

Daryl Olsen, DVM 53, president of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, and co-owner of the Audubon-Manning Vet Clinic (AMVC) at Audubon, IA, provides management services to sow units in seven states.

AMVC also maintains some sow unit ownership in Iowa and North Dakota. “Some of these remote areas offer some real opportunities for well-isolated sow units where we can control the health easier and still have availability of a grain supply,” he says.

He suggests pig-dense Iowa is probably not the best bet for siting new sow operations. “I think locating a sow unit in Iowa, where you could get some isolation for a biosecure area, is probably going to be extremely difficult. So, future growth of sows in Iowa is probably going to be limited.”

Olsen cites three general challenges to hog production growth in Iowa:

  • A governor who is not supportive of agriculture in general, or of the pork industry in particular;

  • Lack of harmony between ethanol production and hog production for control of the corn supply; and

  • Density of hog numbers that make disease control difficult.

“Our number one challenge right now is the importation of so many outside sources of pigs into Iowa, and how we can safeguard Iowa's herds and potentially track movement,” Olsen comments. Table 1 breaks down the origin of the 17.8 million pigs that were imported into Iowa in 2005. Figure 1 compares pig imports to breeding herd numbers.

Opportunities and Challenges

John Mabry, director of the Iowa Pork Industry Center, thinks the outlook for the state's pork industry is very positive, provided the legislators and regulators don't do anything foolish.

“Iowa is a state with tremendous agricultural land, and that's not going to change,” he assures. The land begets agricultural products — corn, soybeans, wheat — whatever you want to grow.

The nutrients produced by a 2,400-head finisher or a 2,400-sow unit in the form of manure will provide the fertilizer needed for a corn-soybean rotation on a section (640 acres) of land,” he continues. “If we were to use all of the available acres in Iowa to grow crops using pig manure, we could handle three times the current pig population in the United States.” Naturally, such exponential growth probably wouldn't be welcomed in many circles. “Still, I'm pretty sure that we could sustain a 50% growth in the pig population in Iowa,” he adds. Current pig inventories run at about 17 million head (Figure 2 on page 51).

Mabry says two key issues will have a marked effect on Iowa's hog growth potential:

  • Ethanol's impact on corn prices, thus profitability; and

  • The sensibility of legislators and regulators.

“Look at what's changing in this industry,” he continues. “Petroleum prices have a huge effect on the economics of a pig farm. All of a sudden, the value of the manure is 2-3 times higher than recent years, so the cash flows from finishing buildings change quickly.

“We've also seen feed costs go up 25-40%. The cost of production target used to be 38-41¢/cwt., live. Now, we're looking at 48-51¢ due mainly to feed costs. With forward pricing opportunities, hogs are still profitable. I'm sure we won't see the profits of the past three years, but at $5-10/pig, we can still have a robust industry.”

Mabry is keeping an eye on North Carolina as the building moratorium expires this year. “At the present time, they can rebuild facilities on the existing sites, but they can't move permits (to another site). They're requesting from the North Carolina legislature the ability to take a permit, shut a farm down as population encroaches, and rebuild it on another isolated area. If they don't get that, there will be a decrease in pig numbers in North Carolina,” he predicts. “That would create even more opportunity for production in the Midwest.”

The impact of ethanol production from corn poses another challenge for the state. Currently, there are 66 plants in place or financed. “If all of those plants are built and operational, they would use all of the corn produced in the state last year,” he explains. Drawing from an economic assessment conducted by John Lawrence, Iowa State University (ISU), Mabry says the use of equal amounts of corn in ethanol production vs. animal agriculture, creates a 10-to-1 employment ratio difference.

“A 100-million gal. ethanol plant employs 90 people; if you put the same amount of corn through pigs, which would be comparable to the size of Iowa Select Farms, it would require 900 people,” he says.

Other concerns include foreign animal diseases, odor control and reliance on out-of-state feeder pigs for finishing.

About 10% of the pigs finished in Iowa last year were imported from Canada. “The list of weaned pig and feeder pig suppliers, is a little scary,” notes ISU Extension Swine Specialist Ken Stalder. “Particularly if you knocked out Canada because of a disease, for example.”

Still, Stalder sees the state's infrastructure as well-positioned to remain the top hog finisher. “We have a wealth of packing plants and buying stations (Figure 3), which is a big advantage.”

ISU geneticist Tom Baas teaches the basic swine production course. “We've seen an obvious decline in the number of independent producers,” he agrees. “There are a lot of farmers raising pigs, but many don't own them.”

Baas sees the trend away from sow gestation stalls as a major challenge. “It's important to remember that we moved away from pens and to stalls for a reason. If we return to pens, we'll be going back to some of those same issues,” he reminds.

Adding to that, “We have selected for an animal that will survive and thrive in a stall with very little competition. That's not the same animal that's going to make it when housed in groups.

“We will transition to a different kind of animal, and it may not be as productive as we've had in the past,” he warns. “I'd predict that production will slip for a while, then gradually build back to present levels as we select for more durable animals capable of good productivity in the environment we put them in.”

Legislative and regulatory issues will drive the future of the pork industry in Iowa, says Mabry. “A lot of the people who can influence the future of animal agriculture in Iowa are under the golden dome in Des Moines. They can enact legislation that can encourage or stop any growth in the animal industries very quickly through political appointments and legislation.”

Table 1. Pigs Imported into Iowa in 2005
Canada 2,768,928
Missouri 2,735,073
Illinois 2,080,239
North Carolina 1,931,280
Minnesota 1,885,480
Oklahoma 1,788,074
Nebraska 1,335,855
Colorado 1,122,594
Other states combined 2,235,586
Total 17,883,109
Statistics courtesy of Iowa Department of Agriculture & Land Stewardship

Canada Faces Packer, Production Challenges

Sporadic economic gains and losses, coupled with a labor shortage and uncertainty in the packer segment, present huge challenges to the Canadian pork industry.

Prior to the last couple of years, when U.S. pork producers read or heard anything about the Canadian hog industry, it was typically about increasing hog shipments across the border.

Over the last two years, however, most of the hog-related news from Canada has been about problems, challenges or difficulties.

Today, U.S. producers still see, and are somewhat irritated by, increasing live hog imports from Canada. Unlike the past, however, U.S. producers understand that the increased exports are a result of those problems and challenges, not related to subsidies or unfair advantages.

In fact, while U.S. pork producers have enjoyed over three years of uninterrupted profitability, their Canadian counterparts have seen sporadic profits followed by losses.

Issues Abound

Today, the Canadian hog industry faces a litany of issues, including feed costs that are out of line compared to the United States, uncompetitive packing plants, labor shortages, disease challenges and restrictive environmental regulations. News from Canada has included lengthy labor disputes, plant closures, producer attrition and lower production.

As Figure 1 shows, the Canadian herd began a slow decline two years ago; however, it has done nothing to slow the advance of live hog shipments into the United States.

Figure 2 shows the pace of Canadian live hog exports to the United States from 1994 through the first quarter of 2007. This growth in exports is symptomatic of many of the Canadian problems. Slaughter hog exports are increasing due to labor shortage and an inability to keep hogs away from U.S. packers. Likewise, weaner and feeder pig exports are accelerating due to strong Iowa demand and more competitive feeding conditions in the U.S. hog belt.

Industry Strengths, Weaknesses

Before discussing the current challenges facing the pork industry, it is worth noting that Canada remains a global leader in pork exports and is one of the largest pork producers in the world.

Canada has huge competitive advantages related to exceptional production capability and a comparatively small population. Access to the world's most lucrative market, the United States, doesn't hurt either. Some of those competitive advantages include:

  • Greater availability of fertile arable land relative to human and animal requirements; arable land/person is nearly double that of competing nations, such as Argentina, Brazil and the United States.

  • A climate that is conducive to hog production efficiency.

  • Less intrusive production. Most of the industry has a mature and efficient production and marketing infrastructure and logistics system.

  • Abundant and clean water.

  • Better animal health.

  • Extraordinary grain production capability.

  • Management and entrepreneurial foundation of the industry that is proven and successful.

  • A scientific and research base that is renowned as a world leader.

  • Diversified export markets. Canada exports to over 100 countries and is increasingly less dependent upon the U.S. market.

  • A pork export demand that has grown rapidly, while domestic demand has been stable.

One of the results of those advantages relates to the productivity of the industry. According to PigChamp data, live born pigs/litter in Canada exceeds the United States by about 5%, and pigs weaned/litter exceeds the United States by about 10%.

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With those positives, it is also worth noting that the Canadian hog and pork industry is struggling with competitive tests throughout the supply chain. Some of those key challenges include:

  • Declining feedgrain acreage.

  • Lagging feedgrain productivity relative to the United States.

  • Higher cost of feedgrains relative to the United States.

  • Higher cost of feeding hogs relative to the United States.

When all the components of production are compared, it is reasonable to assert that a typical prairie province hog operation could have total costs that are C$5.00-8.00/head (US$4.50-7.20/head) higher than its counterpart in the U.S. Midwest, based on the George Morris Centre cost of production model. The situation would be just as difficult in Ontario or eastern Canada. This differential, in turn, plays a material role in lagging hog production profitability between Canada and the United States.

The increased use of corn for ethanol production in the United States has become the single largest driver of the rapid rise in corn pricing in North America. This in turn, naturally, has major ramifications for the hog industry.

The subsidies to the U.S. ethanol industry, relative to supply and demand, could result in stronger pricing relationships in the United States compared to Canada. At this point, it is too early to know whether the relative supply-demand changes will be enough to eliminate or narrow the Canadian feed cost disadvantage.

Furthermore, if the Canadian government increases subsidies for Canadian ethanol, this in turn could erase the U.S. demand-supply price increase relative to Canada.

Packer Issues, Challenges

The Canadian pork packing industry is currently the focal point of industry competitiveness. The sector is in the midst of large-scale rationalization and restructuring.

In order to understand why this is occurring and where the industry is likely heading, it is necessary to understand some of the main drivers in the industry. Key characteristics that determine success or failure of pork packing plant operations include scale economies, plant location/utilization, labor costs, hog slaughter weights and credits.

The following provides a good outline of relative plant sizes between Canada and the United States:


  • Average capacity: 3,200 head/day.

  • Five largest Canadian plants: 8,400 head/day.

  • Three of the top 29 are > 40,000 head/week.

United States

  • Average capacity: 13,000 head/day (nearly four times greater than in Canada).

  • Five largest U.S. plants: 21,000 head/day (2.5 times greater than the top five in Canada).

  • Twenty of the top 29 plants are > 40,000 head/week.

The main message of this data reinforces that Canadian plants or line speeds are much smaller or slower than in the United States.

Table 1 offers another perspective on the same factor. Plant size is an important consideration because economic research, as well as statistical analysis and basic cost accounting, have consistently shown that larger plants have lower costs/head than smaller plants.

It should be noted that academic and government research into economies of scale and size are more plentiful in the United States.

In larger plants, direct and indirect costs are spread over larger numbers. Of course, there are limits, but the practice consistently results in lower labor costs in larger plants. According to the George Morris Centre, USDA and other academic research, costs can be C$2.00-5.00/head (US$1.80-4.50) lower for large plants (1,000/hour) vs. small plants (300-400)/hour.

Double shifting is important for similar reasons. Indirect costs such as administration and depreciation are spread over a larger number of hogs, and assets are generally more fully utilized. All major U.S. plants are double shifted, whereas in Canada, only two very small plants in Quebec have been double shifted. According to the George Morris Centre data research, Canadian plant costs are at least C$3.00 (US$2.70) higher than U.S. plants due to a lack of double shifting.

Essentially, Canadian plant costs are likely to be at least C$5.00/hog (US$4.50/hog) higher than in the United States because they are smaller and not double shifted. Anecdotal information from Canadian packers suggests that the U.S. advantage is likely closer to C$8.00/head (US$7.20/head) due to smaller sizes and a lack of double shifting.

The Canadian pork packing industry appears to be at a competitive disadvantage across a range of critical success drivers. There is little doubt that there are real, measurable weaknesses facing Canadian packers for each of the competitive drivers.

For the industry as a whole, a conservative estimate of the disadvantage would be at least C$8.00/hog (US$7.20/hog), but more likely over C$10/hog (US$9.00/hog).

Labor Shortage Takes a Toll

Canadian livestock production and packing is facing a mounting labor shortage. This shortage has been brought on by many factors, including an aging work force, a dramatic reduction in local youth enrolling in agriculture-related programs/farm careers, and an inability to compete in the labor market with other sectors. This new labor environment is directly impacting hog production and packing from coast-to-coast.

The Canadian pork packing industry faces many challenges, but the lack of labor is arguably the most significant. Depending on methodology, it is very straightforward to assert that labor availability is costing the Canadian pork packing industry C$600 million to $1 billion/year (US$540 million to $900 million).

Furthermore, when the packing industry suffers due to this or any other challenge, the ramifications are felt directly by producers as well.

Canadian Currency Values

The appreciation of the Canadian dollar has had an impact on Canadian packers in two ways. First, it has modestly reduced gross margins. This is due to the fact that appreciation has reduced pork cutout revenues at a slightly faster rate than it has reduced hog costs. And operating cost competitiveness relative to the U.S. competition has also been impacted.

The appreciation of the Canadian dollar resulted in a dramatic escalation in operating costs in terms of U.S. dollars. This means that, strictly due to appreciation, common plant costs that may have been competitive at a 65-cent U.S. dollar conversion became uncompetitive at the 85-90-cent dollar conversion.

The challenges at the packer level are manifested in many ways, but one of the more obvious relates to Canada's pork export performance.

Figure 3 shows Canadian pork exports to the United States and U.S. pork exports to Canada. Not only are Canadian exports to the United States declining, but the United States is becoming more of a presence in the Canadian market.

In essence, the U.S. industry is taking inexpensive weaner pigs from Canada, adding value, then shipping the pork back to Canada.

Poised to be a Pork Leader

While the challenges are many and difficult, the Canadian advantages ultimately mean that the industry can, and likely will, continue to be a world leader and a strong competitive presence. Within that optimistic context, however, the key challenge relates to feedgrain and packer competitiveness.

The Canadian agricultural industry needs to address lagging productivity in feedgrains and its resulting pricing disadvantage relative to the United States.

In addition, the packing sector must undergo a restructuring to better compete in world and domestic markets, particularly against the United States.

The likely result will be a period of accelerated attrition in producer and packer operations for the next five years. Within that difficult period, however, the industry remains poised to continue to grow, compete and succeed, domestically and internationally.

Table 1. Comparison of U.S. and Canadian Pork Packing Capacity
U.S. Canada Quebec
Avg. daily capacity, hd 13,000 3,200 2,700
Plants >40,000/head/week 20 3 -