De Heus launches practical swine research center

Royal De Heus DeHeus elsenpas-eerste-zeugen2.jpg

Royal De Heus announced May 20 that earlier this month it opened its center for practical research into pig nutrition at "De Elsenpas" in the Netherlands.

Feeding research can now begin following the arrival of the first TN 70-SPF breeding sows, and the inauguration underlines De Heus’ ambitions to take the next step in the continuous development of innovative pig feeds, the announcement said.

Healthy and sustainable pig farming will continue to grow in importance in the future both nationally and internationally, the animal nutrition company said. Rapidly changing and challenging market conditions demand constant innovation. That’s what De Heus said motivates it to focus even more on feeding healthy pigs in the best possible way, with the least possible impact on the environment and society.

De Heus has used this vision to invest in a center for practical research into pig nutrition, in line with the latest animal husbandry, animal nutrition and data technology insights.

The research center conducts nutritional research relating to practical issues, De Heus said. New formulations, raw materials, ingredients or current nutritional issues can be examined carefully, which allows new insights to be translated into practice quickly in the form of innovative pig feeds and the dissemination of knowledge within the international pig farming sector, the company said.

Pig farm replication

The research center functions as a conventional, modern farm with sows, piglets and fatteners, De Heus said, noting that imitating the real world under controlled conditions is a prerequisite for thorough research.

The center has space for 230 sows with accompanying piglets, as well as breeding sows and 900 finishing pigs. This setup lets the company carry out unique nutritional research into all animal groups as well as across the various animal groups for which long-term effects can also be determined. The pigs are fed individually in feeding stations, which makes it possible to examine several feeds concurrently, the company said.

The research center holds specific pathogen-free (SPF) status and has strict external and internal biosecurity.

De Heus noted that a strength of this new research center lies in the huge volumes of data that are collected and analyzed. Identifying each animal through a chip makes it possible to collect and analyze data at the individual animal level from each step in the pig’s life cycle. The pig's climate is monitored continuously. The genetic origin, weight progression and growth results of each animal, up to and including the slaughter, are all documented; when combined with feeding, climate and care, these all provide starting points for further analysis and research, the company emphasized.

This allows for the discovery of new connections and insights, accelerating the growth of knowledge without the need for specific research. The database offers a range of new possibilities for improving feed, services and advice for pig farmers.

According to the announcement, De Elsenpas is the company's most modern research center for pig nutrition. It brings together all of the knowledge De Heus acquires worldwide in cooperation with its pig farming customers and knowledge institutes.

“The investment in the new research center matches our strategy perfectly to combine knowledge and research further and to use it for the development of innovative animal feed products,” Martin Rijnen, group director nutrition at De Heus, noted. “It lets us innovate even more effectively and add more value to the pig chain.”

Johan Zonderland, Pigs Concept development and research team leader, added, “I’m pleased that we’re using De Elsenpas for research. De Heus’ feed innovations contribute to solutions for the challenges faced by pig farming worldwide: an even better use of scarce raw materials, a low-medication pig chain and a better association with society’s wishes and the natural environment.”

Royal De Heus, established in 1911, operates internationally, with the production and commercialization of high-quality animal feeds as its core activity. Its strong international growth in the past few years has led to De Heus now ranking among the top 15 animal feed suppliers in the world.

Outside the Netherlands, De Heus operates in more than 70 countries, including operating companies in Spain, Vietnam, Portugal, Poland, Russia, Myanmar, the Czech Republic, Egypt, Ethiopia, South Africa, Brazil, Serbia, Indonesia, Ukraine and India. De Heus also operates in many foreign markets through the export of concentrates and premixes, in particular to Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

The company has more than 6,000 employees worldwide -- 650 in the Netherlands. Its head office is located in Ede-Wageningen in the Netherlands.

Source: Royal De Heus, which is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.

’19 Pork Masters: The Maschhoffs’ man behind the scenes

Josh Flint/The Maschhoffs Steve Quick’s attention to detail and high standards for individual animal care have set a precedent throughout The Maschhoffs’ organization.
Steve Quick’s attention to detail and high standards for individual animal care have set a precedent throughout The Maschhoffs’ organization.

There may be an “I” in Steve Quick’s name, but the word is uncommon in the vocabulary of The Maschhoffs’ senior consultant.

During his 40-year career with the organization, he has stood shoulder to shoulder with the family as they built the business from a 750-sow operation in southern Illinois to the 204,000-sow empire across the Midwest it is today. All along the way, Quick’s commitment to the business, his team members and most importantly, the pigs, has never wavered.

“A lot of times my role is just to give people confidence in their own ability,” Quick says. “It’s not like I’m doing anything special. I’m just kind of giving them the power back and saying, ‘You know what you need to do, and you can do it.’ ”

Quick may not be well-known across the broader U.S. pork industry, but he’s a legend in The Maschhoffs organization. His past and present colleagues fondly refer to him as a teacher, a coach, an advocate and a stockman who can trouble-shoot and solve any pig-related issue. A true ambassador, who never says a cross word and always smiles, Quick has performed nearly every function of hog production over the course of his career, including sows, wean to market, boar studs, logistics, marketing and health.

He is the go-to person at The Maschhoffs.

“Should he be named a Master, he’ll be honored beyond belief — and in typical farmer style, will instantly downplay his own actions, pushing the credit toward those of us who have had the pleasure to work  with him,” writes Clayton Johnson, Carthage Veterinary Service, in his nomination letter.

Johnson, who had the privilege to work with Quick for eight years, says “Steve is the epitome of the pig farmer I describe to people on an airplane when I tell them I work in pig production — he does what’s right for his animals and employees every day without fail. Steve works tirelessly and selflessly; he’s the definition of a servant-leader, putting the well-being of every person and pig in the barn above himself.”

For these reasons and many more, Quick has been selected as a member of the 2019 Masters of the Pork Industry class.

The husbandry gene
His instinctive way of caring for pigs may seem like second nature to many of his colleagues, but it’s something Quick says he observed as a young boy on his family’s small, diversified 80-acre farm in southern Illinois. One of his favorite childhood memories growing up was taking his father coffee in the middle of the night as he toweled down a fresh litter, then placing the piglets under a heat lamp to keep them warm.

“My father was one of the hardest-working men I’ve ever been around, calm and even-keeled to be around, a kind man and enjoyed family,” Quick says of his dad, who also worked full time off-farm in construction to provide for the family. “I think a lot of my basic behavior comes from him, and my work ethic, too.”

Quick jokes he was probably a “country hick” growing up, but he always felt comfortable in an agricultural setting and around livestock. In high school, a teacher even had him leaning toward a career in agricultural education. But it wasn’t until the 17-year-old took a job just 18 miles down the road from where he grew up that he knew he wanted to be involved in pork production.

“I had been working for my uncle cultivating beans, and a friend of mind had started working here,” Quick says. “The Maschhoff family was building the first big expansion to the home complex — a 650 farrow-to-finish confinement barn.”

The farm belonged to Wayne and Marlene Maschhoff of Carlyle, Ill. Quick had gone to high school with their sons, Ken and Dave, but didn’t really know them very well. However, he was eager to join the construction crew, and he was soon driving wedges and slinging concrete forms every weekend, holiday and summer break from Southern Illinois University.

National Hog Farmer/Ann HessFrom the time Steve Quick first took the construction job as a teenager to his role now as an internal consultant, the 2019 Master of the Pork Industry says he has enjoyed every minute of his time at The Maschhoffs.

From the time Steve Quick first took the construction job as a teenager to his role now as an internal consultant, the 2019 Master of the Pork Industry says he has enjoyed every minute of his time at The Maschhoffs.

Job before the title
Construction was how Quick got his foot in the door, but he admits every now and then he would slip over to do some pig work. After he graduated with an animal science degree, the newly constructed barn was up and running, and Quick knew it was where he was meant to be.

“I knew I had a job if I came back. After the first summer, I had hit it off with the boys and Wayne and Marlene. I have been very fortunate to work for people who I consider family, and I always have,” Quick says. “We had similar work ethics. We [myself and the boys] might have had a mischievous streak, but we got along fantastic, and I was earning money and working with friends and enjoying myself. It was just a great scenario to be in.”

It was 1983 when Quick came on board full time with The Maschhoffs. There were three or four others working at the new site with 600 sow units, and the farm had other expansions in the works. Quick found himself gravitating to the hog house, though. Looking back, he says he probably assumed the role of production manager.

“Maybe it was my nature, and I migrated to it, but eventually one of my friends in the barn said, ‘Why don’t you become general manager? You’re doing the job anyhow,’ ” Quick says. “I wasn’t really looking for the title, but it put me in an official position and a direction for me. I approached Ken and Dave with that concept, and they agreed — and it’s kind of been that role ever since.”

Quick says Ken and Dave also gave him autonomy with the position and a shared responsibility in the farm, allowing him to take on an indirect ownership of the herd.

“After 40 years, I’ve always referred to them as my hogs, and they were comfortable with that and never hindered that mindset,” Quick says.

While Quick went on to hold the title of production manager for the next 20 to 25 years, his responsibilities kept expanding and growing in The Maschhoffs’ organization.

Initially, production expansions were local and involved converting systems from finishers to gestation, nurseries to farrowing and wean to market, to break up production stages for health benefits. After they filled their footprint locally, The Maschhoffs began to look outside their region to add contract finishers.

“We always had people in positions behind us during those early years that were ready to take on more responsibility, so that allowed us to grow and me to expand out,” Quick says. “Without those people in place and ready to step up, I would never have been able to step out and take on contract finishing relationships. We always had a good workforce and people ready to assume that next role.”

Show and tell
As the company expanded, Quick spent more time in the field helping contract partners get established. Some were new to raising livestock. Quick would help those growers get started and walk them through the ventilation and the production practices, before bringing on field staff to help support the needs out in the finishers.

For the most part, the expansions went smoothly. Quick credits the production partners they selected and admits he learned from some of the more experienced growers along the way.

However, those who have worked with him say he has always been the fundamental part in successfully onboarding new partners within the organization.

Scott W. Stehlik, general manager, technical operations, The Maschhoffs, has worked with Quick for the past seven years. He has seen firsthand the passion Quick exhibits when he is helping new and inexperienced employees and caretakers learn the fundamentals of animal husbandry and management.

“He enjoys seeing people become equipped and capable of figuring out solutions to the problems they find in the barn,” Stehlik says. “And he is willing to roll up his sleeves and work side by side if that’s what it will take to get the job done.”

Onboarding with ease
In 2005, The Maschhoffs doubled in size when it acquired the Land O’Lakes pork production system. Quick admits there was apprehension going forward, but he says once he met the Land O’Lakes people on staff, he knew the transition would be smooth.

“Their production folks were very talented and that was a big reason we were willing to take on that big of a risk or jump,” Quick says. “It was challenging, but it was fun and exciting rolled up into one at the same time.”

With the Land O’Lakes acquisition, The Maschhoffs production jumped up to more than 100,000 sows and spread the system geographically across Illinois, Iowa, Missouri and Oklahoma.

“It really changed our footprint dramatically. I think one of the biggest advantages is that our company is really built on pig people, and we really enjoy being out with the animals — from our president, Bradley Wolter, on down to our management. I think that helped us connect through these purchases,” Quick says. “We would get out on the farms with people. We would go grab the squealing pig in the farrowing crate and give it a hug, out of habit. That production bond helped us gain acceptance.”

Acquisitions continued for The Maschhoffs, first in 2008 with the Blackjack Pork assets, and then in 2011 with the NPP System, bringing the company to its current size of more than 200,000 sows and a nine-state footprint. Quick says just like the Land O’Lakes staff, these acquisitions also brought along a talented group of production personnel.

“Our task then was to integrate their skill into The Maschhoffs’ livestock production philosophy,” Quick says. “Like Land O’Lakes, these groups also brought new ideas that we could benefit from and incorporate into the ‘global’ TML [The Maschhoffs livestock] production strategy.”

Paul Ayers, animal care manager for The Maschhoffs, points to the best-selling book “Good to Great” to describe Quick’s leadership on the team, and getting these acquisitions on board. In the book, author Jim Collins analyzes the qualities of leaders who propel their organizations from average to exceptional, saying these leaders often compel modesty, are self-effacing and often talk less about themselves than about others on the team. 

“They do not always motivate by giving rousing speeches, but have an intense passion for the organization’s purpose and display unwavering resolve to produce results that make the company great. According to Collins, many of these leaders are more ‘plow horse’ than ‘show horse,’ ” Ayers says. “Steve Quick is a true ‘plow horse’ and has consistently driven for results that have led to the growth and success of The Maschhoffs.”

Job unfinished? No quitting
“Stockman” is the word Randy Bowman, director of technical services, The Maschhoffs, says describes Quick best.

“He’s a dying breed that doesn’t understand there is a ‘starting time’ or a ‘quitting time,’ ” Bowman says. “When you get a farm visit report from Steve, you can read the passion between the lines.”

For example, Bowman recalls a time when he and Quick were hauling pigs to Iowa during a snowstorm.

“Steve watches everything like a hawk; and while we were talking, he noticed that a truck was scheduled to load more pigs than he thought it could carry in the current weather we were having,” Bowman says. “He called the transport lead and asked if that particular truck could hold that many pigs, and the response was ‘I think so.’ Steve responded back, ‘ “I think so” kills pigs.’ The load size was reduced.”

National Hog Farmer/Ann HessNow with his role on the customer support team, Quick identifies key areas of the business where there may be room to improve, or that could use some technology help.

Now with his role on the customer support team, Quick identifies key areas of the business where there may be room to improve, or that could use some technology help.

High standards
Quick shrugs it off as just his mindset. For example, a year ago, he was working with the production manager at a farm, and they couldn’t find the replacement igniter for a heater that was out. One barn was getting cold, and the temperature was dipping below The Maschhoffs’ desired temperature range. They could not locate an igniter for this particular brand of heater and could not get it repaired immediately.

Quick and the production manager propped up the barn as best as they could, attempting to compensate with the second room heater, and hit the road. As he drove away, though, Quick couldn’t stop thinking about the situation — and then he heard the weather forecast.

He knew he had to go back, so he called the production manager who was also already 15 miles away. They were able to locate a new heater and return to the site, where they replaced the heater themselves.

“Once we found out it was going to get cold, I wasn’t going to be able to sleep anyhow,” Quick says. “I had to go back and get it fixed.”

Confidence during conflict
Quick admits he is often called in when there is an issue, and sometimes those issues have been less than pleasant. One of those times was in 2008, when an animal welfare video came out against another pork production company.

“At that time, we weren’t as formalized in our processes,” Quick says. “I would still say that we were very good caretakers of our animals, but this unfortunate industry incident highlighted that we needed to expand from that.”

Quick devoted his time to making sure every site was up to speed on animal welfare expectations and protocols, production partners were trained, and all sites’ animal handling processes were aligned with customer requirements. The updated training included National Pork Board educational materials as well as Pork Quality Assurance auditing at the sites.

“We would want any issue corrected regardless, but that brought additional leverage to the situation from the animal welfare perspective,” Quick says. “We wanted to make sure we had a system in place that ensured our animals were taken care of, ensured our people were taken care of and trained and protected — so they inadvertently didn’t do something that would put them in jeopardy, as well from not knowing any better.”

Quick says the philosophy behind the new protocols wasn’t much different from the way he had trained production staff across The Maschhoffs, but this made it more official.

According to Ken and Dave Maschhoff’s letter nominating Quick to be a Master of the Pork Industry, Quick was instrumental in building the foundation for their animal care program, which is recognized by many in the industry as a leading platform for animal welfare verification. “And, he saw the need for such a program in the mid-1990s, long before consumer pressure pushed others in the industry to adopt similar standards.”

Production, research conduit
Now as a senior consultant, first in the technical operations division and then part of the customer service team, Quick’s focus is continuing to refine husbandry skills while using new technology to drive production efficiency, animal well-being and employee engagement. In this role, he often goes into facilities to look for strengths and weaknesses, and finds possible opportunities to bring in additional resources.

One of the first thing Quick had to deal with as senior consultant was porcine epidemic diarrhea. He had been through transmissible gastroenteritis and had seen that impact, but for many of The Maschhoffs’ production partners, it was all new.

“A lot of people were just overwhelmed by the mortality and the thought of their hard work going down the drain,” Quick says. “I came in primarily to give them confidence and to say ‘Hey it’s bad. It will end, and we will get through this together and get our health stabilized and get back to production, but we will have to do some work to get there.’ ”

Over the years when The Maschhoffs have lost management, it’s been Quick who has gone in and made sure animal care procedures were still getting done correctly, and new people getting trained effectively. Another time there was a fire in a nucleus site, so Quick spent a year supporting the relocation of the nucleus population and getting the herd back to full production.

Now, with his role on the customer support team, Quick identifies key areas of the business where there may be room for improvement or that could use help from technology. Those improvements include lowering finishing mortality and nursery mortality.

“I’m a conduit between production and the research team to make sure tools and the strategy are there, and we are getting them implemented in the right manner in the field,” Quick says.

Not retiring anytime soon
Quick admits with his new role, he is out of the office more than in, but he has been lucky to have a supportive wife. When he is home, Quick and his wife of nearly 30 years, Cheryl, stay occupied keeping up with their daughter, son-in-law and two teenage grandsons next door. The entire family lives on the 80-acre farm Quick grew up on.

“I’ve got a family that supports me and is 100% behind me,” Quick says. “They are really the rock that allows me to do what I enjoy, because they are so supportive.”

The 57-year-old is also in no hurry to retire.

“After 40 years, I still come to work looking forward to what the day might hold,” Quick says. “I might go home tired nowadays, and it takes a little more time to recuperate from working with some of these guys around here — but as long as I can support our team out in the field and help bring them along, I’m ready to go.”

From the time he took the construction job as a teenager to his role now as internal consultant, this Master of the Pork Industry says he has enjoyed every minute of his time at The Maschhoffs. Quick says Wayne Maschhoff was like a surrogate dad during those early years, and he has learned so much from him as well as Ken, Dave, Bradley Wolter and many more over the years.

“I’ve been extremely blessed. I totally enjoy what I do. I’ve been able to make a comfortable living doing something I love. I work with people that I consider family,” Quick says. “My career has developed in a production setting, and I wouldn’t imagine it any other way.  Over the years, I have met scores of talented individuals. If I have impacted them or the industry in any way, I am humbled and proud.  I know for certain they impacted me.”

MIDDAY Midwest Digest, May 20, 2019

Ford will eliminate 7,000 jobs.

The storm and rain forecast for the heartland are impressive, but not in a good way.

It's a guessing game as to how much corn will not get planted this year, possibly up to 5 million acres.

The largest carbon sequestration program will be put in place in Indiana.

There was a nice send off for a South Dakota farmer who passed away. A Case IH combine was used to carry his casket.


Photo: joebelanger/Getty Images


MORNING Midwest Digest, May 20, 2019

Authorities are still searching Lake Michigan for a small plane that crashed last week. Aboard was the president of the Detroit Salt Company.

South Dakota lawmakers are giving advice to Sonny Perdue when it comes to tariff impact payments. 

Many farmers will have to wait it out this week, again, as more rain fell over the weekend, and will show up this week, as well.

For the second week, Nascar driver Clint Boyer squabbled with another driver after the race.

Tom Brand was in the right place at the right time last night. A man was choking and he performed the heimlich maneuver.

Farm Progress America, May 20, 2019

Max Armstrong shares some insight on trade talks with China that have struggled, but there’s good news on the Canada-Mexico trade front. Max shares information he learned from Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue about passage of that trade deal – the U.S. Mexico-Canada Agreement – and the need to get the measure passed.

Farm Progress America is a daily look at key issues in agriculture. It is produced and presented by Max Armstrong, veteran farm broadcaster and host of This Week in Agribusiness.

Photo: ronniechua/iStock/Getty Images Plus

This Week in Agribusiness – May 18, 2019

Note: Start the video and all parts will play through as the full show

Part 1

Max Armstrong and Orion Samuelson open this week’s show talking about the weather with Agricultural Meteorologist Greg Soulje, who predicted this wet spring. Bill Northey, under secretary of agriculture, shared insights on the spring flooding, neighbors helping neighbors and the support farmers will get to help out. Max and Orion talk markets with Tommy Grisafi, Advance Trading Co., starting with the impact of China, including the concern over that country’s swine herd.

Part 2

Max Armstrong and Orion Samuelson continue their market conversation with Tommy Grisafi, Advance Trading. In Colby Agtech, Chad Colby travels to Washington, D.C., to learn about tissue chips which may be used to develop new drugs without testing in humans or animals. Max shares a report on the fight against weed resistance from Syngenta and Bobby Bachman, Syngenta, talks about Tavium Plus VaporGrip which offers residual control.

Part 3

Max Armstrong and Orion Samuelson talk with Farm Broadcaster Brian Winnekins, WRDN Radio, Durand, Wis., who talks about issues facing farmers in that part of the country. Chad Colby talks with Jason Webster from Precision Planting to enhance planter performance.

Part 4

Max Armstrong and Orion Samuelson open this segment with a report on cover crops as part of the Plan Smart, Grow Smart series from BASF. In the report, Max visits with Justin Rahn, Mt. Carroll, Ill., about the extra value of cover crops for producers. Ag Meteorologist Greg Soulje looks at weather for the week ahead.

Part 5

Ag Meteorologist Greg Soulje offers his extended look at the weather including his four-week forecast.

Part 6

In Max’s Tractor Shed, Max shares the story of a 1937 John Deere A owned by the Dillon family, Safe, Mo. Orion Samuelson profiles Girard FFA in Girard, Kan., chartered in 1941. Member Taylor Brynds, shares information about her favorite event in her chapter. In Samuelson Sez, Orion Samuelson takes on an unusual topic this week – Watch Your Litter. When mountains of snow disappear, it reveals mountains of litter; it’s an issue farmers have pointed out this spring.

Part 7

Max Armstrong and Orion Samuelson close this week’s show talking with Paul Wallen, author of “The Breakup: What really happened?” a look at the sale of International Harvester to Tenneco in 1984. That move was the ‘end of the world’ for some; but it turned out well, and he shares some interesting facts about the company and its machines. Learn more at

Metal tariffs lifted for North American neighbors

Marc Bruxelle/iStock/Thinkstock NAFTA graphic of Canada, Mexico and US flags on puzzle pieces

The Trump administration announces plans to lift the 25% tariff on steel and the 10% duty on aluminum imports imposed last year on Canada and Mexico. Both countries subsequently retaliated against a host of U.S. products.

“We thank the administration for ending a trade dispute that has placed enormous financial strain on American pork producers,” says David Herring, a pork producer from Lillington, N.C., and president of the National Pork Producers Council. “Mexico’s 20% retaliatory tariff on U.S. pork has cost our producers $12 per animal, or $1.5 billion on an annualized, industry-wide basis. Removing the metal tariffs restores zero-tariff trade to U.S. pork’s largest export market and allows NPPC to focus more resources on working toward ratification of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which preserves zero-tariff trade for U.S. pork in North America.”

Last year, Canada and Mexico took over 40% of the pork that was exported from the United States. NPPC has designated USMCA ratification as a “key vote” and will closely monitor support of the agreement among members of Congress. U.S. pork exports to Mexico and Canada support 16,000 U.S. jobs.

“We are also hopeful that the end of this dispute allows more focus on the quick completion of a trade deal with Japan,” Herring adds. “U.S. pork is losing market in its largest value market to international competitors that have recently implemented new trade agreements with Japan.”

According to Dermot Hayes, an economist at Iowa State University, U.S. pork will see exports to Japan grow from $1.6 billion in 2018 to more than $2.2 billion over the next 15 years if the United States quickly gains access on par with international competitors. Hayes reports that U.S. pork shipments to Japan will drop to $349 million if a trade deal on these terms is not quickly reached with Japan.

Source: National Pork Producers Council, which is solely responsible for the information provided, and wholly owns the information. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.

’19 Pork Masters: 50 years later, customers still come first

National Hog Farmer/Ann Hess In addition to their 30,000-sow farm, the Herring family — David (left), Billy, Magdalene, Mark and Tommy — oversees hog construction jobs all over the world and employs more than 2,000 people.
In addition to their 30,000-sow farm, the Herring family — David (left), Billy, Magdalene, Mark and Tommy — oversees hog construction jobs all over the world and employs more than 2,000 people.

“Sold out.” Those were the words Billy Herring heard 50 years ago when he tried to place an order for concrete slat flooring for the new nursery he was building on his family’s 300-sow, farrow-to-finish farm in Newton Grove, N.C. The Raleigh, N.C.-based manufacturer wasn’t just out of stock on slats; it was sold out for the year.

That didn’t deter the young pork producer, though. Relying on ingenuity and experience, Billy constructed his own slats. His attention to detail and quality workmanship shone through the project, and soon other farmers were calling Billy to help construct flooring for their farms and were placing orders for future projects.

“I was just trying to manufacture quality equipment to take care of my family,” Billy says. 

Five decades later, Billy’s company, Hog Slat Inc., is the largest contractor and manufacturer of hog equipment in the world. It fills orders for pig and poultry farmers across the United States, Mexico, Poland, Romania, Ukraine, Russia, Germany and China. The company has remained family-owned, with Billy and his sons, Tommy, David and Mark, each managing parts of the business. In addition to their 30,000-sow farm, the family oversees hog construction jobs all over the world and employs more than 2,000 people.

A global corporation now, Hog Slat has never faltered from the business model Billy built the company upon. There is no middleman.

“Our model has been direct to the customer since Day 1. That’s the way Daddy established it, and that’s the model we still follow,” says Tommy, president of Hog Slat. “When we first started, we were producing concrete slats for pig farmers. Today in the pig and poultry world, we have our own proprietary products that we can deliver, direct to the farmer, with 85% to 90% of the products the farmer needs.”

Since Billy started the company in 1969, Hog Slat has truly been filling the needs of U.S. pork producers and beyond through quality construction, equipment and products; convenient locations; and a strong devotion to customer service. For these contributions to the industry and more, Hog Slat and the Herring family have been selected to the 2019 Masters of the Pork Industry class.

Turning pigs to profit
Born and raised on a tobacco farm in Sampson County, Billy learned early how to profit off pigs. At the age of 12, his father gave him his first pig. He fed it, and when it sold, he had enough money to buy a bicycle.

After graduating high school in 1954, Billy took his first job working at the family general store, where he stayed on for eight years. When he and his brothers purchased Newton Grain and Feed, Billy assumed management responsibilities of the feed mill. Soon after, the family expanded the hog business with a 300-sow, farrow-to-finish farm. In 1968, Pork Chop Hill Farm was up and running, farrowing pigs in-house and feeding on the ground.

Submitted Billy Herring (right), along with Dick Jordan, a former partner in Hog Slat, performs a live-load slat test in 1974.

Billy Herring (right), along with Dick Jordan, a former partner in Hog Slat, performs a live-load slat test in 1974.

Proving naysayers wrong
In 1969, when Billy started building slats, single slats were the industry standard. But by 1973, he saw the opportunity for gang slats — a group of seven slats set up in a 4-by-10 or 4-by-8 configuration.

While the Raleigh-based firm made single slats, the Herring family was not aware of gang slats being in existence. For single-slat systems, the labor required was more intensive. Gang slats could be put in using a crane.

“We could cut labor costs by 80% and increase the quality of the product, because a gang slat was a lot stronger than seven individual slats,” Tommy says.

Most people told Billy it wouldn’t work.

“One guy told me, ‘You are going to double your inventory because you have both singles and gangs,’ ” Billy recalls.

Despite the naysayers, Billy made the choice to go against the trend.

Airplane slats
In 1975, Hog Slat had its first big job: putting in gang slats at First Colony Farms in eastern North Carolina, a 10,000-sow, farrow-to-finish operation.

“It kept us rolling,” says Magdalene Herring, Billy’s wife and Hog Slat’s first secretary.

Next came the farrowing slat, or as the pig farmers named it, the “airplane slat”: constructed with a center concrete slat for the sow to lie on, and then creep area with a rubber coating and expanded metal.

“It had something that simulated wings, so they called it an airplane slat, but it was really just a combination of floors,” Tommy says.

That was a new concept in 1983. Today, a combination floor is common within the industry.

Riding industry waves
By the late-1970s, Billy was looking for areas to expand the business beyond slats. He first hired a company to build equipment for Hog Slat, but by 1977 he had decided to bring the manufacturing in-house, building the company’s first equipment plant in Newton Grove.

“I thought there was a need there for better equipment than was on the market,” Billy says.

When the early 1980s hog market failed drastically, and the construction market slowed down, Hog Slat started making feeders. While the company still had the slat business, the feeders kept Hog Slat going and allowed it to keep the manufacturing staff on board.

From 1979 to 1984, with extra salespeople on board, Hog Slat started to explore outside of North Carolina — to Iowa and Indiana — to diversify and not be dependent on just its own region.

This wasn’t the first time the family had ridden out the markets. In 1979, Hog Slat opened a plant in Cobb, Ga. In 1981, the company was forced to close the plant when 40% of the hogs left Georgia.

“The hogs left, so we left, too,” Billy says.

By 1982, Billy had decided to try his hand at building a hog farm for a father and two sons in North Carolina. Roy Poage, general manager of DeKalb Swine Breeders, came to look at the breeding stock farm after it was constructed and made Billy an offer.

“He came into my office and said, ‘Billy, you are going to build a hog farm for me in Kansas,’ ” Billy says. “I said, ‘I am?’ And he said, ‘Yes, you are.’ ”

Heavy construction
In the spring of 1985, Billy and Magdalene moved to Kansas to begin construction on the DeKalb sow farm. At this time, Tommy assumed the company’s management.

After building the farm in Kansas, Billy says Hog Slat got into “construction heavy.” The next big job was 200 buildings in Virginia. A joint venture between Smithfield Foods and Carroll’s Foods, each project was to house 1,000 sows. Billy and Magdalene moved to Virginia in 1986 to start the project; David, who was now finished with school, followed in September 1987. It was April 1989 before the project was finished.

“We were nomads,” Magdalene says.

After those jobs, Billy began “experimental work,” as he calls it. David says his father was really Hog Slat’s research and development at the time.

David took on more hog farm construction jobs, first moving to Oklahoma in 1989 to build another farm for Poage. He was there for 18 months before moving to Grundy County, Iowa. Another slat plant was soon built in Humboldt, Iowa.

“Billy’s timing at getting into the business when industry in eastern North Carolina was growing and modernizing gave him the ability to sell products, and he took advantage of not only creating new products, but improving existing products and making them better, more efficient and more practical from an economic standpoint,” Tommy says.

It also helped that the rest of country saw that change and innovation in North Carolina and was receptive to those products and technologies coming to the Midwest, David says.

Reputation preceded Hog Slat
As customers started to move business internationally, the Herrings soon found their construction business was requested outside the U.S.

“Our reputation to deliver and manufacture a good-quality product resulted in numerous requests from international customers,” Tommy says.

Today Hog Slat maintains three slat plants in China, three in Mexico, one in Romania, one in Poland and six in the U.S. — as well as three steel manufacturing plants in the U.S. and one in Romania.

“Our international investments serve to spread our risks,” Tommy says. “If the U.S. market is down, maybe the Chinese, Russian or Mexican market is up.”

Shopping locally
Around 1998, when there were too many pigs and not enough shackle space, the Herrings realized that a tremendous amount of their income was based on new construction, and they needed to become less dependent on new construction.

The Herring family started experimenting in retail sales to provide services and products to existing farms. It was something they had been doing since the early 1980s, but sometimes parts were hard to come by — especially in rural regions.

The Herring family started to focus on retail sales and expanded to 85 stores in the U.S. Each store essentially carries the products needed for any existing pig or poultry farm. Stores are strategically located where there is an appropriate number of pig or poultry farms to support.

Since they opened their retail outlets, the Herrings say the feedback has been nothing but positive.

TDM Farms
In addition to Hog Slat, the brothers also run TDM Farms (named for Tommy, David and Mark), an integral part of the family business. In 1983, they bought a 350-sow farm from a customer, and in 1986 added another 500-sow farm. Then, in 1988, the family turned its focus to building a 1,200-sow research farm.

The research farm enabled the Herrings to test products, ventilation, energy use and various other things. They hired a young college graduate, Mary Ann Martin (now Mary Ann Christensen of Christensen Farms), to be a statistician and to measure results.

“We could model a trial on that farm and measure the results,” Tommy says. “We gained a lot of valuable information. It was a working hog farm, and it had to make a profit, and it was part of TDM, but it provided a lot of the knowledge we gained to pass on to our customers.”

In 1996, they doubled the research farm to 2,500 sows; half of the farm is an environmentally closed facility, the other half is a curtain facility now.

Today, TDM Farms has more than 30,000 sows, and it includes a feed mill and grow-out operation in Indiana.

“As an equipment producer running a pig farm, it gives us insight into what our customers face every day and allows us to make better decisions within both of our companies,” Tommy says. “That has really helped us on the international market as well.”

“By having the production facility, it validates the products we sell to customers. Sometimes the great ideas don’t turn out to be great ideas; but the only way you can truly measure it is statistically — other than that, it is just an idea,” David says. “That has been one of the great assets for Hog Slat as an equipment provider: to be able to measure the products and be innovative and create new products as these opportunities are put before us in our production facilities.”

Having TDM Farms has also allowed the brothers to showcase new technologies to customers and handle customer requests for tests.

One of the most successful findings to come out of the research farm was trying a wean-to-finish production model, Tommy says. 

“We thought if we placed weaned pigs in the finishing floor and never moved them, they will grow and perform better,” Tommy says. “We tried it in 1992, and it worked really well; and we started doing that, and now the industry does it on a large scale.”

Customer always right
Besides operating its own pork production system, Tommy says Hog Slat’s business model is very similar to many pork producers across the U.S. As a fully integrated company, Hog Slat’s staff does all of its own manufacturing, distribution, construction and sales. There are no profit centers in between.

Hog Slat’s philosophy has also stayed true to Billy’s original business model.

“The Hog Slat engineering team is made up of 10 people, whose marching orders or direction is, anything they develop or put in front of the market has to be as good as, or better than, competing products,” Tommy says.

It must meet both the pig and the pig farmer’s needs.

“I really think because we grow pigs, pay the bills on pigs every week, and manage labor issues with pigs every week, it gives us a unique ability to understand our customers’ needs and deliver products and services that they truly need,” Tommy says. “Understanding the unique needs of the pig and the pig farmer gives us an unrivaled advantage over our competition.”

Tommy says he is proud of what his family and employees have achieved, and that the company’s employees and their unwavering dedication are the foundation of Hog Slat’s success.

Finally, and most importantly, the family says the company has never wavered from its commitment to its customers.

“This saying may be beat to death, but nowhere is it truer than here. The customer is always right, he’s always going to be right, and we are always going to back up the customer. We’ve made mistakes over the years, but we’ve always, and will always, make them right and fix them,” Tommy says. “Our customers are our first important asset, and our employees are our second important asset — and we look after both of them.”

“We’ve always had tip-top customers and employees,” Billy says. “That is one big thing — having great people.”

National Hog Farmer/Ann HessWhen Billy Herring (above, with wife Magdalene) and his brothers purchased Newton Grain and Feed, he assumed management responsibilities of the feed mill. Soon after, the family expanded the hog business with a 300-sow, farrow-to-finish farm.

When Billy Herring (above, with wife Magdalene) and his brothers purchased Newton Grain and Feed, he assumed management responsibilities of the feed mill. Soon after, the family expanded the hog business with a 300-sow, farrow-to-finish farm.

Hog Slat family
From highly educated to no formal education, Hog Slat’s staff is a diverse group, but Tommy says he would put them against any Harvard MBA any day.

“I’m just proud of the company, the employees, their effort and ingenuity and their creativeness and stubbornness,” Tommy says. “We have accomplished a lot as a family, but that family includes a lot of employees that have just done an amazing job.” In the last 50 years, they have seen employees stick around 35 to 45 years.

“They refer to it as ‘my company,’ ” Magdalene says.

“That is the heart and soul of our company,” Tommy says.

Faith, family, friends
The 83-year-old founder of Hog Slat spends most of his days now helping out at TDM Farms with son Mark. Looking back over the last 50 years, he says he has no regrets and will be eternally grateful to his friends at North Carolina State University, Murphy Brown, Carroll’s Foods, Prestage Farms, Lundy Packing and Smithfield Foods for their support over the years.

He’s also thankful for wife Magdalene’s efforts in holding down the family fort.

“He put all his time and energy into the business,” Magdalene says. “I put my time and main energy into supporting his efforts.”

Finally, Billy says his faith helped him get to where he is today.

“I attribute my success to good employees, hard work, my wife and my family, and most importantly, the Lord,” Billy says. “When I say my Lord, he has guided all my decisions along the way.”

U.S.-China trade war escalates

Getty Images/wildpixel U.S.-China trade battle. boxing gloves illustration

Tariff Agreement — U.S., Canada and Mexico

President Trump announced today the U.S. has agreed to lift its tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Mexico and Canada.  In return, Mexico and Canada agreed to adopt tougher monitoring and enforcement measures to prevent Chinese steel and aluminum from being shipped to the U.S. through their countries.  This should provide a pathway for Mexico and Canada to drop their retaliatory tariffs.

The U.S. wanted Mexico and Canada to agree to quotas on steel and aluminum but was roundly dismissed by both countries.

This should help in the efforts to pass USMCA.  A number of Senators and Congressmen had let it be known they would not even consider USMCA as long as the tariffs were in place.

No end in sight for China-U.S. trade war
The trade war between the United States and China continues to escalate with no end in sight. China announced that effective June 1 it was increasing the tariff on $60 billion of U.S. goods from 10% to 25%. China’s Ministry of Finance announced the 25% tariff will apply to 2,493 U.S. products, with other goods subject to tariffs of 5% to 20%. This action taken by China follows President Trump’s decision to raise tariffs from 10% to 25% on $200 billion of Chinese goods.

The increase in Chinese tariffs will affect food products, alcoholic drinks, consumer goods, chemicals, manufacturing products, etc. U.S. casings and stomachs will see a tariff increase from 10% to 25%. According to U.S. Meat Export Federation, “the total duty rate for U.S. hog casings and stomachs entering China will be 55% (normal rate of 20% plus 10% plus additional 25%) and for sheep casings the rate will be 53% (normal rate of 18% plus 10% plus additional 25%).” The current duties on U.S. pork and beef will remain at the current level — 62% for pork and 37% for beef.

On Monday, the U.S. Trade Representative released a list of over $300 billion of Chinese products the United States is considering placing tariffs on of 25%. On June 17, the USTR will hold a public hearing and accept written comments regarding the proposed new tariffs. Once these tariffs go into effect, the United States will have placed tariffs on nearly all Chinese exports to the United States.

U.S. and China trade negotiators are expected to meet again in Beijing for another round of negotiations, but no date has been set. President Trump and President Xi are expected to meet June 28-29 during the G-20 summit in Japan.

Ag trade package soon
President Trump says he would provide another aid package to farmers to help offset the economic damage agriculture has incurred because of the trade war with China. USDA officials are saying the new agricultural trade package to help farmers will be soon. Indications are the next aid package could be $15 billion to $20 billion including direct payments to farmers and a commodity purchase program. Similar to the first package.

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue told reporters this week, USDA is looking at possible changes in the way the payments were made under the Market Facilitation Program. The National Corn Growers Association let it be known of their dissatisfaction with the one cent per bushel that corn farmers received under the first aid package. This week the NCGA says, “A penny didn’t cut it then and won’t cut it now.”

As the trade wars continue and with no new trade agreements in sight, the patience of producers is running thin. The common theme is “trade not aid.”

USDA enhances ASF efforts
The USDA is implementing a surveillance plan to increase its efforts in dealing with African swine fever. ASF testing is being added by the USDA to its classical swine fever surveillance.

According to the USDA, “The surveillance effort will test samples from high-risk animals, including sick pig submissions to veterinary diagnostic laboratories; sick or dead pigs at slaughter; and pigs from herds that are at greater risk for disease through such factors as exposure to feral swine or garbage feeding.”

Also, the USDA will be working with state and federal partners to identify and investigate incidents involving sick or dead feral swine to determine if they should be tested for ASF.

Crop planting behind schedule
The USDA’s latest “Weekly Crop Progress” report found that corn and soybean plantings were behind schedule. Corn planting was 30% complete. This compares to 62% last year and a five-year average of 69%. Soybean planting stood at 9% compared to 35% last year and a five-year average of 26%.

Senate ag committee approves USDA nominees
The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry approved three USDA nominees this week: Mindy Brashears, undersecretary for Food Safety; Scott Hutchins, undersecretary for Research, Education and Economics; and Naomi Earp, assistant secretary for Civil Rights.

The Senate Agriculture Committee approved the nominations last Congress, but the Senate never considered them. Thus, President Trump nominated them again.

Source: P. Scott Shearer, who is solely responsible for the information provided, and wholly owns the information. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.

Agribusiness often first to see mental health challenges on farm

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“That’s not my job.”

Be honest. We’ve all said that four-word phrase sometime or another since we started earning a paycheck. But when it comes to mental health, it’s not something any of us in the agribusiness industry should ever say.

“Mental health in general is not something that people in agriculture, even the general public, are good at talking about and I think some agribusiness professionals, think ‘That’s not my job. You know, I’m a range specialist, I’m the grain elevator guy, or I’m a salesman, why do I have to be worried about that?’” says Krista Ehlert, assistant professor in the Department of Natural Resource Management and state Extension range specialist at South Dakota State University. “For one thing, those are your clients and more importantly than that, they are human. Everyone is trying to find their own way and I think being receptive and approachable can really make a big difference.”

Since mid-April, Ehlert and five other SDSU Extension specialists, along with Andrea Bjornestad, assistant professor in the Department of Counseling and Human Developing and SDSU Extension Mental Health specialist, have not only been lending an ear to stressed farmers and ranchers but are also teaching agribusiness professionals across the state to do the same. Last month, SDSU Extension hosted eight workshops, four for farmers and farm families “Weathering the Storm in Agriculture” and four for agribusiness professionals for “Communicating with Farmers Under Stress.” The workshops stem from a Farm Stress Summit Ehlert and the other Extension specialists attended this past January at Michigan State University. During the Summit, the South Dakota group joined over 100 Extension personnel from 20 states to be trained on how to host these types of workshops.

On May 23 they will host eight more in Lemmon, Mitchell, Watertown and Winner, in the hopes of opening up more dialogue on mental health in the agricultural community.

“That’s kind of a first step in alleviating some of this chronic stress, by just asking people how they’re doing and getting them to open up a little bit to you,” Ehlert says. “Then with the workshops for the agribusiness professionals, we discuss the different signs of depression and suicidal tendencies. We share how to talk to people when they are depressed and under chronic stress and what to do if you think they are having suicidal tendencies. It’s really heavy, but the more people are aware of what that looks like and even better how to handle it themselves, then hopefully more people can start getting the help that they need.”

As Ehlert points out, agribusiness professionals are often the first ones to spot an issue.

“You see them at these different points of time, and you develop relationships with them, and you really get a sense of who they are and how they handle stress,” Ehlert says. “An example is if a farmer or rancher meets with their lender and appears stressed and withdrawn, and at a follow-up meeting he announces he’s going to sell off everything — that should give the lender a clear sense that something is seriously wrong and that individual needs help.”

Other red flags include:

  • The farm or ranch all of a sudden seems in disarray or disorganized.
  • If the farmer or producer is quick to react to whatever you’re saying or seems extra negative.
  • If that person normally doesn’t smoke or smoke often and is now smoking excessively.
  • If he or she makes jokes about how much they’re drinking.
  • If the farmer or producer seems disheveled, unkempt and looks like he or she has stopped taking care of themselves.

“For farmers and ranchers, those are all things that they can look out for within themselves and their neighbors. If a neighbor stops showing up to church or to coffee at the local cafe, it’s time to stop by and check in to see how they are doing,” Ehlert says. “Often in rural communities your neighbor is five, 10, 15 miles away from you, but it’s important to take a moment and do a pulse check on yourself and what’s happening around you.”

Ehlert says many of the agriculture professionals that were at the workshops in April had concerns about handling those situations after spotting an issue on the farm.

“We’re not asking anyone in any situation to take on the role as a therapist. There are people who go to school specifically for that,” Ehlert says. “The workshops are focused on what you can say in those situations, how you can just be with someone and help, and these are also other resources that you can gear them towards. It’s really about providing scaffolding to support producers.”

Part of the professionals’ workshop involves practicing asking someone if they are thinking of taking their own life.

“It is a heavy and intense question, but you need to practice saying it,” Ehlert says. “Some people are really worried that by doing that you’re almost planting the idea to someone, but the evidence is that when you do ask someone if they’re thinking of taking their own life, it does not increase the risk of it happening and that person is often relieved that someone sees them and what they’re going through, and that someone cares.”

Ehlert and her colleagues are hoping for a strong turnout next week at the workshops, since an April blizzard and calving season impacted numbers a bit.

“Even though we did have a slightly lower turnout than we were hoping for that first round, having someone show up and walk away feeling more hopeful or better equipped to help the next farmer or rancher that they interact with … that’s our goal,” Ehlert says.

SDSU Extension plans to host more local workshops like this in the future as well as a larger statewide event, a rural mental health summit, with details forthcoming.

“We are ultimately trying to prevent people leaving the agricultural industry because of chronic stress and we’re also trying to prevent catastrophes from happening such as someone taking their own life but making it look like a farm accident,” Ehlert says. “Those are all realities that are happening nationwide and in South Dakota.”

For a farmer, producer or someone you know who needs help, Ehlert says the South Dakota Helpline Center has locations in Sioux Falls, Brookings and Rapid City. By texting “sdfarm” to 898211, you will reach the Helpline Center, the only entity in the state accredited by the Alliance for Information and Referral Systems and the only entity in the state that provides a certified crisis line through the American Association of Suicidology. It’s a number Ehlert keeps in her mobile phone contacts to share with other agribusiness professionals as well as producers.

Another place agribusiness professionals and farm families can go for help is Ted Matthews, a rural mental health practitioner for the state of Minnesota and counselor to hundreds of farmers and farm families. Matthews can be reached at 320-266-2390 or by visiting

For more stories on this topic, please visit our sister Farm Progress publication Prairie Farmer:

Why do farmers commit suicide?

All the land between happy and sad

10 truths about how farm families talk