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Variability of piglet birth weights balanced with sow nutrition

National Pork Board Overhead shot of a sow and her litter in a farrowing stall

By Jorge Y. Perez-Palencia and Crystal L. Levesque, South Dakota State University Department of Animal Science
Genetic selection and advances in reproductive technologies have increased the prolificacy of sows, allowing them to wean more than 30 pigs per year. However, the numbers of lightweight piglets have increased along with the within-litter variation of piglet birth weight. Owing to these changes, new challenges have arisen for the swine industry, within them: small piglets affected by intrauterine growth restriction, increased postnatal piglet mortality and impairment of subsequent growth performance. In this context, producers and researchers have investigated nutritional strategies to allow large litters to succeed and promote adequate performance for sows and piglets.

In this regard, it is important to examine the parameters used to evaluate the sow’s performance and their effectiveness in the current context of modern sows. For example, litter quality at parturition is based on the total number of piglets born, number of piglets born alive, total litter weight, individual piglet birth weight, and the number of stillbirths and mummified. During the lactation period, pre-wean mortality, numbers of pigs weaned, the total and individual pig weaning weight, and average daily gain are most often considered parameters. However, are these parameters sufficient to evaluate the full potential of a nutritional strategy for sows to succeed with large litters?

Uniformity is important in all stages of swine production and, due to the impact on market price, is commonly considered in the evaluation of nutritional strategies during the grow-finish phase. However, Douglas et al. (2013), using two databases (approximately 130,000 pigs) analyzed factors (i.e. birth weight, wean weight, month of birth, sex and breed) associated with poor growth performance of pigs from birth to slaughter and the capacity of piglets born small to compensate for that initial body weight deficit. According to the weight category analysis, the authors concluded that piglets with the lightest birth weight were able to exhibit compensatory growth from birth to slaughter with 74% (Database 1) and 82% (Database 2) of the pigs moving up at least one body weight category. More attention should be paid to piglets in lower weight categories because lightweight piglets are positively correlated with preweaning mortality and negatively correlated with the growth performance during suckling. However, it is likely that any significant effects on the performance of the smaller weight piglets may not be obvious when considering only the average litter weight and not the piglet variation within the litter.

Piglet performance data from three experiments performed at South Dakota State University (131 sows, 1,438 pigs) evaluating the influence of maternal phytogenic oil supplementation on piglet performance during lactation were compiled. Each trial evaluated a different commercially available phytogenic oil supplement; however, in all studies, the product was added on top of the first morning feed according to manufacturer’s recommendations beginning when the sows entered the farrowing room and continuing up to weaning. Daily animal care, lactation diet fed, targeted litter size (i.e. 13 piglets by 48 hours after birth) and wean age (20± two days) were consistent across all trials. Patterns in piglet performance by weight category and litter variation were assessed.

There were minor differences observed in piglets born alive per litter and average piglet birth or wean weight; however, phytogenic oil supplemented sows consistently suckled 0.5 additional piglets to weaning (Table 1). In all treatment groups but one, litter variation was lower at weaning than birth with the largest reduction in litters from supplemented sows (Trial 2). Piglets from each litter were assigned to a litter weight category designation as listed in Table 2.

South Dakota State University Table 1: Average piglet birth and wean weight, corresponding litter coefficient of variation and number of piglets across three trials evaluating the impact of maternal phytogenic oil supplementation.

Table 1: Average piglet birth and wean weight, corresponding litter coefficient of variation and number of piglets across three trials evaluating the impact of maternal phytogenic oil supplementation.

South Dakota State University Table 2: Categorical designations at birth and weaning based on body weight (pounds).

Table 2: Categorical designations at birth and weaning based on body weight (pounds).

There was little change from birth to wean for either group of sows in the proportion of piglets deemed light (Figure 1). In both groups of sows, there was movement of middle-weight pigs into the heavy-weight category, with slightly more pigs in the heavy category at weaning from phytogenic oil-supplemented sows. To better assess which piglets within the middle category were likely exhibiting compensatory growth, piglets were separated into 11 categories (Table 2) at birth and weaning. Based on Chi-squared analysis (P = 0.035), a greater proportion of piglets in control litters fell back into the lower end of “middle” and upper of end of “light” weight categories. Similar to birth weight, pigs at the lower end of “middle” (i.e. ≤13 pounds) and “light” are more likely to continue to fall back or require additional care after weaning (i.e. veterinary treatment).

South Dakota State University Figure 1: Distribution of light, middle and heavy piglets at birth and weaning from sows fed diets supplemented, or not, with a phytogenic oil during lactation.

Figure 1: Distribution of light, middle and heavy piglets at birth and weaning from sows fed diets supplemented, or not, with a phytogenic oil during lactation.

The traditional litter characteristics used to evaluate sow reproductive performance may not tell the complete story for modern sows. Therefore, evaluating sow feeding strategies that are able to promote the growth performance of large litters demand special attention. Indeed, a simple average may not be, by itself, an adequate index to assess impact of sow nutrition on piglet performance. New evaluation techniques will be increasingly needed to better explore the potential of nutritional strategies and to track progress in productive characteristics of pigs.

South Dakota State University Figure 2: Distribution of piglets at birth and wean from sows fed diets supplemented, or not, with a phytogenic oil during lactation. Category “E” represents a minimal target wean weight (12.5 pounds) at 21 days of age.

Figure 2: Distribution of piglets at birth and wean from sows fed diets supplemented, or not, with a phytogenic oil during lactation. Category “E” represents a minimal target wean weight (12.5 pounds) at 21 days of age.


Douglas, S. L; S. A. Edwards; E. Sutcliffe; P. W. Knap; I. Kyriazakis. 2013. Identification of risk factors associated with poor lifetime growth performance in pigs. J. Anim. Sci. 2013.91:4123–4132 doi:10.2527/jas2012-5915
Sources: Jorge Y. Perez-Palencia and Crystal L. Levesque, who are solely responsible for the information provided, and wholly own the information. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.

New record-keeping platform would help pork producers during FAD break

National Pork Board livestock trailer by two feed bulk bins

MetaFarms has announced a first-of-its-kind program for swine producers to prepare for a potential foreign animal disease outbreak. SecureReady leverages all aspects of the MetaFarms Ag Platform to facilitate the population, updating and access of records including: Premises Identification Number, real-time inventory, movements and biosecurity assessments.

“With the cancelling of the World Pork Expo and African swine fever continuing to spread, we’re reminded the threat of an outbreak looms ever imminent over our industry,” says Brian Parker, chief operating officer for MetaFarms. “We understand the ability for the industry to respond quickly and effectively is crucial.”

If ASF, foot-and-mouth disease, or classical swine fever is found in United States; regulatory officials will limit the movement of animals to control the spread of these very contagious animal diseases. According to industry estimates, ASF alone poses a potential $8 billion loss.

MetaFarms is working closely with the National Pork Board on their Secure Pork Supply plan as well as with state veterinarians and USDA to identify fields of required information. In the event of an FAD outbreak, SecureReady is designed to assist the industry reinstate the movement of livestock.

“One of the benefits of using the MetaFarms platform is access to data. We track about 30% of the industry’s finish pigs and more than one million sows through the MetaFarms Ag Platform,” says Parker. “It only makes sense that we would work with our producers to get prepared to protect their business and the industry we’re all heavily invested in.”

MetaFarms is refining a template to create a basic standardized version of SecureReady for producers not currently using the platform and a biosecurity audit through its ASSURANCE module to help facilitate operational preparedness.

Tim Loula and Paul Yeske of the Swine Vet Center in St. Peter, Minn. recommend maintaining accurate production records across systems with PINs, animal inventory, movements and biosecurity audits, through a platform like MetaFarms, which will be paramount in the event an outbreak occurs.

“We want to work with producers to ensure everything they need is being captured and organized and they’ve got their records in order. This way they are well positioned to work with their state vet and maintain business continuity,” Parker says.

Source: MetaFarms, 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.

Genus plc partners with BCA to progress PRRSv resistant pigs in China

Getty When the provinces with outbreaks and neighboring provinces completely banned feeding swill to pigs, the epidemic was greatly reduced.

Global animal genetics company, Genus plc has entered into a strategic collaboration with Beijing Capital Agribusiness Co. Ltd, a leading Chinese animal protein genetics business, to research, develop, register and market elite pigs in China that are resistant to porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus. 

“The combination of Genus’ PRRSv resistance technology, elite genetics and breeding know-how along with BCA’s deep understanding of the porcine sector in China and its distribution channels plays to the strengths of each party,” says Bill Christianson, PIC COO. “We are looking forward to rapidly progressing the PRRSv resistance program in collaboration with BCA and launching this important new product in China.”

The initial phase of the collaboration is expected to take several years and focuses on the research, development and regulatory approval in China of PRRSv resistant pigs. Following regulatory approval and the launch of PRRSv resistant pigs in China, Genus and BCA have agreed that they will work together in a joint venture which will include Genus's porcine operations in China.

As China seeks to modernize its pork production, these efforts are significantly hindered by disease outbreaks. The potential to reduce PRRSv will bring significant benefits to China by improving the reliability of the pork supply chain and continuing to provide high-quality pork to Chinese consumers. PRRSv affects the majority of pigs in China and causes animal suffering, reproductive failure, increased mortality and reduced growth. BCA and Genus also intend to cooperate to research and develop solutions to other major animal health challenges facing the Chinese pork industry including African swine fever.

“We are excited to collaborate with Genus PIC, the world’s leading porcine genetics company, for the registration and launch of PRRSv resistant pigs in China as an important step of a broader partnership,” says Liu Jiantong, general manager and vice chairman of Beijing Capital Agribusiness Co., Ltd.  “BCA is a leading agricultural company that focuses on providing high quality and modern technology to Chinese animal protein producers. Our exclusive collaboration with Genus PIC in China on this cutting-edge technology and other future ventures further expands BCA’s presence in the animal protein genetics sector and is consistent with BCA’s long-term strategy.”

“The more countries that have approved the production or consumption of pork from PRRSv resistant pigs the smoother global trade. China is the largest consumer, producer and importer of pork in the world. It is important for Chinese consumers, Chinese producers and overseas producers—including those here in the U.S.—to have approval for use of this technology in China,” says Bill Christianson.

Further information on this strategic collaboration is on the Genus plc corporate website.

Source: Genus plc, 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.

MORNING Midwest Digest, May 16, 2019

Walmart will offer free next-day delivery.

The ag secretary confirmed the USDA will look to offset the trade disruption, to the tune of $15-20 billion.

It was literally a sticky situation when a truck carrying honey overturned in Indiana.


Photo: ANNECORDON/Getty Images

UMN, SHIC keep close eye on global African swine fever breaks

Plum Island Animal Disease Center APHIS has approved 11 National Animal Health Laboratory Network laboratories to test for ASF.

In partnership with the University of Minnesota Swine Group and the Swine Health Information Center, the Center for Animal Health and Food Safety at the College of Veterinary Medicine has taken a novel approach to strengthening the United States market against global swine diseases, including African swine fever. The Swine Disease Global Surveillance Project compiles data from organizations, governments, producers and experts around the world to provide near real-time global surveillance of swine diseases.

Maria Sol Perez, D.V.M, Ph.D., with the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, answers questions about what ASF is, where global outbreaks of ASF could occur and how the Swine Disease Global Surveillance Project identifies and tracks hazards that could put the U.S. swine industry at risk.

Q: What is ASF and how is it transmitted, diagnosed, and treated?

Perez: ASF is one of the most severe hemorrhagic diseases in pigs; it is caused by a virus and is often fatal, having a drastic impact on the pig industry. Because of this, ASF is listed as a notifiable disease by the World Organization for Animal Health, which means that all OIE member countries must immediately report any outbreak of the disease in their territory. The USDA considers ASF a foreign animal disease and, therefore, swine byproduct imports from ASF-positive countries are forbidden.

Infected wild boars and pigs are the main source of the ASF virus in infected countries. The transmission can occur by direct contact between infected and uninfected pigs, or indirectly, by contaminated swill feeding (uncooked pork products) or any objects or materials which are likely to carry infection, such as contaminated clothes, utensils or trucks.

Unfortunately, ASF presents a huge diversity of clinical signs. Early signs you may notice include: increase in the number of animals with purple ears and other parts of the body, fever, diarrhea and sudden increase of diseased animals and mortality. It is very important to highlight that ASF can have a much milder presentation in the field than what it is traditionally expected, misleading the early clinical diagnostic. ASF should be considered if any of the clinical signs described are found in combination with mild to severe increase in mortality.

Q: Where are outbreaks of ASF currently reported and is there a threat of a possible outbreak in the United States?

Perez: Since 2007, ASF has spread from the Caucasus region to eastern European Union countries. It then continued to spread westward affecting domestic pig and wild boar populations, making a long jump last September, reaching Belgium. Simultaneously, last August, it had its first incursion into Asia, where China, a major pork producer worldwide, reported its first outbreak. Since then it has expanded rapidly through China, reaching 31 out of 34 provincial-level administrative units. Since the first outbreak in China, many countries in the region were alerted and raised their control protocols in points of entry, considering that expansion regionally would be almost impossible to avoid. Confirming these concerns, last January, the first outbreak in a neighboring country was reported in Mongolia, and then in Vietnam and Cambodia.

ASF virus is highly stable, temperature resistant and can persist in the environment for a long time, making its control extremely challenging. The risk of introduction to free countries by contaminated pig products that travel long distances is therefore much higher than for many other diseases. Many countries around the globe with strong swine industries, like the U.S., have lately significantly increased their preventive efforts and protocols at many levels to minimize the risk of introduction of the disease, while working on preparedness measures to mitigate its impact as much as possible in case of introduction of the disease.

Q. How does the Swine Disease Global Surveillance Project gather data on the global occurrence of ASF? How frequently is the data reported?

Perez: The Swine Disease Global Surveillance Project compiles data from organizations, governments, producers and experts around the world to provide near real-time global surveillance of swine diseases. SDGS’s international network of collaborators allows the team to accurately interpret and contextualize that information.

We routinely do online searches, contact official agencies worldwide, and work with our international network of collaborators to collect and organize a combination of soft and official data. Then there are successive screening steps in which data and information is modified, edited, corrected, and expanded in collaboration with USDA/Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Center for Epidemiology and Animal Health and selected stakeholders. Finally, a report describing the outputs are made available monthly within the SHIC report to the industry and to the public on a routine basis. Currently, the report primarily tracks three tier-one reportable foreign animal diseases in swine: ASF, classical swine fever and foot-and-mouth disease. We also include comments regarding other diseases that have a great impact on the industry when appropriate, based on the epidemiological context of the event.

Since the first report in November 2017, the project has published 24 reports that identify and track hazards that could put the U.S. swine industry at risk. After the first outbreak of ASF was detected in China in August 2018, the program increased the report output to bi-monthly—rather than monthly—reports to ensure the swine industry had the most up-to-date information.

Q: Where is the data available and what are examples of how the data could be used?

Perez: Swine disease data is available almost everywhere. The main challenge is building the proper steps of screening and filtering that will give consistency to the whole project. Currently, multiple official data sources such as government and international organization websites, international cooperation programs, and soft data sources like newspapers and unstructured electronic information are systematically screened to build a raw repository. After that, an include/exclude process is undertaken. As an output of this phase, a clean list of events is obtained, which will be scored using a multi-criteria rubric that was built based on credibility, and factors such as, scale and speed of the outbreak; connectedness; local capacity to respond; and potential financial impact on the U.S. market.

These reports have the goal to be an accessible tool for the industry to understand complex epidemiological contexts.

Q: Along with Swine Disease Global Surveillance Project, what are other ways you are preparing for and protecting against global swine disease?

Perez: The Center for Animal Health and Food Safety is one of five OIE collaborating centers focused on veterinary service capacity building. As such, CAHFS has the mandate to improve the capacity of the official veterinary services and veterinarians in the field at national and international level, to improve the early detection, management and eradication efforts for diseases like ASF.

Diseases that impact trade do not respect borders and have the potential to spread quickly around the world, which creates a need to tackle these challenges as a global community.

This is why CAHFS and the Swine Disease Surveillance Project relies heavily on a global network of experts to continue to improve global health and protect against global animal diseases. While external partners allow CAHFS to accomplish more effective and efficient work, the University of Minnesota’s ingrained expertise in swine health also makes CAHFS the ideal center of the program’s research.

Source: University of Minnesota, 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.

Farm Progress America, May 16, 2019

Max Armstrong takes on the concept of e-commerce in agriculture and shares insight from a new CoBank report on the concept. There will be growing online marketing pressure on ag’s brick and mortar retailers. Max shared a look at the digital picture that shows that larger farms are more likely to buy online.

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: Westend61/iStock/Getty Images Plus

MIDDAY Midwest Digest, May 15, 2019

Today is national Peace Officers Memorial Day. There were more than 370 officer deaths in the last 365 days.

In Washington, D.C., there's a national officers museum.

Grains have added a little to market gains, including wheat.

At a charity fundraiser, one of the items is a stay at a Michigan football coach's California home.


Photo: Vitalii Abakumov/Getty Images

Pork market volatility is the new normal

iStock/Getty Images Plus/DNY59 "Volatility ahead" road sign with storm clouds in the background

News of African swine fever is everywhere. You can’t pick up an industry magazine or visit an agriculture website without information on how it will impact China and their need for pork. This event has changed the landscape of the world pork industry faster than any single occurrence in my career in the pork industry.

How is this new normal affecting decision making in your operation? That single question has been all-consuming in my discussions with clients and industry colleagues over the past 90 days. Over the first quarter of 2019 the average producer experienced substantial losses that put real stress on some operations. Discussions on managing risk and survival were replaced by the euphoric realization that the U.S. pork industry was given a gift — via the situation in China — to recoup first quarter losses and turn 2019 into the their most profitable year since 2014.

With ongoing volatility, it can be a challenge to not second guess every move. In my experience, second guessing is a given, unless you have a crystal ball and always pick the highs in the market! Since we all have to work for a living and cannot outguess the markets, the only option I see is to make sure you have an actionable marketing plan that you revisit regularly, perhaps even daily.

The best advice I can give to my clients is to revise their budget to see what impact it has on the operation’s balance sheet. The realization of seeing the impact to their balance sheet typically has more of an influence than you’d expect. The possibility of achieving goals and dreams sooner than expected can make this different approach more palatable and lessens the appeal of getting hung up on always hitting the highs in the market.

With the recent retracement of the market, profits for the next have year dropped about $15 to $20 per head. Remember, it wasn’t long ago we were looking at negative margins for 2019. As recent as February, the average margin was a negative-$5 per head for the year. Now $35 per head profits are well within reach and the opportunity for $50 to $55 per head profit for the next 12 months is a real possibility. I fully expect we’ll have another chance at locking-in those types of margins (if not higher) again this year.

You might have hit the high in the market recently and it looks great today. However, are $130 hogs around the corner like in 2014? It’s a possibility. Either way, 2019 will be profitable — even though it may take until mid-July to offset losses through March. But unless you have an actionable marketing plan that you are ready to execute, that opportunity might pass you by.

We’ve all seen the numbers. There’s simply not enough available pork in the export market to make up for an estimated loss between of 20% and 30% in Chinese production. This doesn’t even address the pork needs of Vietnam, Cambodia and most recently in Hong Kong which all have reported ASF.

To take advantage of this opportunity, review your marketing plan internally. If you’re considering an options or futures strategy, make certain your lender understands your plan before you execute and is willing to fund the margin. The last thing you want is for your lender to flinch when margin calls are required.

Planting progress
Your marketing plan should not only consist of locking-in hogs. You also need to look at your input costs. Recent USDA crop progress reports were bullish for corn. This may mean considering an option strategy or owning your corn with a futures strategy for the corresponding hogs you’ve sold. As of May 12, the 10 largest corn-producing states (which produce over 75% of corn in the United States) have only planted 28% of corn acres as of May 12. This compares to an average of 68% of corn planted year-to-date for these states over the past five years. Illinois had only 11% of their corn planted as of that date.

Watching the next two weeks’ progress will be key. We are currently more than one standard deviation below the normal range. If this continues over the next two weeks, we’ll see a shift in acres to beans and shorter maturity corn, which will impact yields.

Steve Malakowsky is a vice president swine lending specialist, with more than 21 years of experience at Compeer. For more insights from Malakowsky and the Compeer Swine Team, visit

Source: Steve Malakowsky, 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.

Smithfield's Westerbeek recognized for leadership in renewable energy

Smithfield Foods NHF-Smithfield-KraigWesterbeek_1540.jpg

The Environment and Energy Leaders Institute has recognized Kraig Westerbeek, senior director of Smithfield Renewables and hog production environmental affairs, as an Environment + Energy 100 honoree. Environment + Energy 100 is a program that honors individuals for their leadership of environmental, energy and sustainability initiatives at their companies.

“Sustainability is ingrained in our company’s culture and that’s evident by the dedication of our people to doing business the right way,” says Stewart Leeth, vice president of regulatory affairs and chief sustainability officer for Smithfield Foods. “Kraig plays a leading role in ensuring Smithfield will reach its industry-leading commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 25% by 2025. It’s an ambitious goal, and Kraig’s passion and innovative thinking will help us hit our mark.”

Westerbeek leads Smithfield Renewables, the company’s platform to unify and accelerate its carbon reduction and renewable energy efforts to help meet its greenhouse gas reduction goal. In this role, he is responsible for developing companywide strategies and initiatives for renewable energy production and energy efficiency efforts at Smithfield’s farms and facilities across the U.S.

As part of his efforts for Smithfield, Westerbeek played an instrumental role in helping the company engage 80% of its grain supply chain in efficient fertilizer and soil health practices, exceeding the original goal. This program zeros-in on Smithfield’s grain supply, the first step in the company’s vertically integrated supply chain. In addition to reducing Smithfield’s GHG emissions, it helps farmers improve their yields, optimize fertilizer usage and reduce runoff.

“Kraig’s leadership in our renewable energy efforts is a key factor in meeting our sustainability goals at Smithfield,” says Bill Gill, assistant vice president of sustainability for Smithfield Foods. “We are immensely proud of his accomplishments and look forward to the groundbreaking projects that lay ahead for Kraig and Smithfield Renewables, keeping Smithfield at the forefront of the industry in sustainability and renewable energy.”  

Recently, Westerbeek led the nationwide expansion of Smithfield’s “manure-to-energy” projects to further reduce the company’s GHG emissions and produce clean, renewable energy. As a result of this expansion, Smithfield will implement projects across nearly all of its hog finishing spaces in Missouri and 90% of its hog finishing spaces in North Carolina, Utah and Virginia. Several of these projects are part of a joint venture with Dominion Energy called Align Renewable Natural Gas. In Missouri, Westerbeek also oversees the reestablishment of native grasslands, prairie and milkweed to create habitat for monarch butterflies and provide biomass for methane generation in renewable natural gas projects, which is a project in partnership with Roeslein Alternative Energy.

Westerbeek and other Environment + Energy Leader 100 honorees were recognized Wednesday at the 4th Annual Environmental Leader & Energy Manager Conference at the Denver Marriott Tech Center.

Source: Smithfield Foods, 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: Go with your strengths

National Hog Farmer/Kevin Schulz Lincoln (left), Mary and Steve Langhorst, the owners of Wakefield Pork Inc., know the strength of the company is in the value of its employees and contract growers.
Lincoln (left), Mary and Steve Langhorst, the owners of Wakefield Pork Inc., know the strength of the company is in the value of its employees and contract growers.

The Langhorst family behind Wakefield Pork knows how to take care of pigs, and they have known enough to stick to their strengths. “We don’t own feed mills or trucks,” says Lincoln Langhorst, general manager for Wakefield Pork Inc., based in Gaylord, Minn.

Rather than spread their staff and resources thin by operating company-owned feed mills and managing a line of feed and hog trucks, the WPI management team has instead teamed up with feed mills and trucking firms throughout the company’s footprint — which stretches from Little Falls, Minn., on the north to Le Mars, Iowa, on the south; and the South Dakota border on the west to Owatonna, Minn., on the east.

“We work with people who treat the pig like it’s their own,” Steve Langhorst says.

That dedication to the health of their swine herd has made the Langhorst family and Wakefield Pork Inc., one of the 2019 Masters of the Pork Industry.

Starting small
Steve Langhorst was raised on a hog and crop farm near Gaylord, in south-central Minnesota, while Mary grew up in Gaylord. Mary and Steve married in 1977, and along with Steve’s dad, they started farming small — with 30 sows, 13 crates and a few acres of row crops. This made Steve the fourth generation to farm on the “home farm.”

In 1978, they began working with Tim Loula, a veterinarian at the Swine Vet Center in St. Peter, Minn., starting a trend of “surrounding ourselves with very good people,” Steve says.

Aligning with good people has been a strategy for the Langhorst family, and the beginning and growth of WPI. Steve and Mary had been looking to build a sow unit — but where to build it? In 1991, they paired with Chuck Peters, a fellow farmer from Nicollet, Minn., and went together to lease a farm in Stearns County, Minn.

“Langhorst-Peters was too much for the name of the farm, and we didn’t really want our names on it because it wasn’t about us,” Steve says. The farm was in Wakefield Township, near Richmond; thus, the name of Wakefield Pork was born. With that first sow farm about 80 miles away from the Gaylord hub, they would take turns making site visits each week to check up on production.

“We sold 200-head lots of feeder pigs, which was considered large groups at the time,” Steve says. Wakefield Pork then started working with contract growers, “and we kept evolving and growing from there,” he says. The company now works with 250 contract growers, who own the barns while Wakefield provides the pigs, feed and veterinary care.

Today, Wakefield Pork cares for 55,000 sows and markets more than 1.4 million hogs each year. That growth has been gradual — and not for the sake of growth. “We never set out to be the biggest,” says Lincoln, son of Steve and Mary. “We want to be the best.”

Steve says the daily drive is for good production. “Just to have numbers doesn’t make success,” he says. “We try to be futuristic and look down the road. We want to stay up with the times and see where there is potential to make the system better. … Our decision-making is based on our culture. … The risk-reward has never been greater than it is now.”

WPI has grown by taking advantage of opportunities as they arose and by working with good people, Steve says.

Mary has always been an integral part of the operation, even when she worked in a bank in Lafayette, Minn., in the early years. “I would do PigCHAMP [computerized health and management program, software for pork production management] in the mornings, and then work at the bank. … Our kids lived our business at the kitchen table,” she says.

In addition to Lincoln, Steve and Mary also have a daughter, Jackie, who works for Cargill and lives in Stillwater, Minn.

Mary quit the bank in 1993 to concentrate more on the hog business. Her role has evolved over time, from handling PigCHAMP records and marketing to handling human resources, which is what she went to college for. She now has the dual title of chief operating officer and human resources director. She relinquished the marketing duties to Lincoln when he returned to the family operation in 2008. As the hog production has grown over the years, so has the human side of the operation, growing from one employee to 275.

The Langhorst family and WPI management know the value of good employees, and the family wishes to stay connected with their employees — as evidenced by Mary doing annual reviews for each of the 275 employees.

“We take a bottom-up approach,” Steve says. “We listen to what the people in the barns have to say. They are there with the pigs every day. … The money is made in the barns.”

National Hog Farmer/Kevin SchulzSixteen years ago, Mary Langhorst initiated a platform for sow farms to compete with each other throughout the year. “NASPIG” is modeled after the NASCAR season; sow farms compete on a weekly, monthly and quarterly basis.

Sixteen years ago, Mary Langhorst initiated a platform for sow farms to compete with each other throughout the year. “NASPIG” is modeled after the NASCAR season; sow farms compete on a weekly, monthly and quarterly basis throughout a time span that mirrors the NASCAR racing season.

What’s fun gets done
Obviously, relying on the good work of employees alone doesn’t guarantee results. Record-keeping and tracking are important to gauge the success of the operation as a whole. With that in mind, 16 years ago, Mary initiated “NASPIG,” a sow farm competition that runs the duration of the NASCAR racing circuit season.

Points are tallied weekly for sow farms on eight different categories of production records. A display case in the lobby of WPI’s main office on the east edge of Gaylord has a miniature racetrack, and cars and banners for the top “performers” for each week. Throughout the NASPIG season, sow farm managers can get a quick glance at how they fared each week, each quarter and overall for the season.

Keeping with the competitive spirit, the leaderboard shows the points that each team is behind the leader, as well as the points by which each team trails the next position.

“It’s fun for them [sow farm managers] to take a look at and see how they can get better, to catch the next team that’s ahead of them,” Steve says.

“This was built for the newcomers, so they could see what is important in our business, and what we would be looking at on a regular basis,” Mary says. “But, it’s become a popular way for everyone to be able to see how all the teams are doing. It gets competitive, and they have fun doing it. As I always say, ‘What’s fun gets done.’”

NASPIG gives points for sow farms on metrics such as farrow rate, total born, prewean mortality, pigs weaned per sow, etc. In addition to typical production metrics, sow farm managers can also receive bonus points by turning in paperwork in a timely manner, or by illustrating one of the We Care principles.

“They also can gain points just by turning in a report on time,” Mary says, stressing the importance of following proper protocol.

Lincoln says the family learned from the veterinarians at Swine Vet Center that being challenged can improve the scope of the business. “Our vets challenged us early on,” he says, “and we challenge our employees to continue to improve. … Any metric that we can measure, we compete on.”

Health matters
Without the pigs, there would be no WPI and there would be no need for a NASPIG competition. Maintaining the health of the company’s herd is of the utmost importance.

“We learned that pig health is important early on,” Steve says. He credits Paul Yeske, a veterinarian at Swine Vet Center with “bringing up the idea of eradicating myco [Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae] in our pigs. We weren’t sure it could be done, but with his help we are now 100% myco-free companywide.”

In 2008, as an added health measure, the company started filtering the sow farms, and now 85% of the company’s sow farms are filtered. “Health comes first,” Lincoln says. “It’s fun to see what a healthy pig can do. The sow has doubled its productivity during Dad’s time.”

Steve feels the industry needs to take more credit for the advancements that have been made, from the breeding stock and genetics to good feed and good care for the animals in the barns.

As mentioned before, there are no WPI feed mills, nor is there a WPI trucking line. Rather, the company works with feed mills and trucking firms throughout the Wakefield geographic footprint. WPI management vets the qualifications of the feed mills and the trucking firms. “They all know the standards that we operate under,” Steve says.

National Hog Farmer/Kevin SchulzWakefield Pork Inc.’s Head of Production Todd Marotz; sow farm manager Scott Van Deest; Chief Financial Officer Justin Sandmann

Big family
Even though Steve, Mary and Lincoln are the only Langhorst family members working for WPI, the trio looks at all employees as family. “Everyone here has worked their way up,” Steve says, with Lincoln adding, “We have all had a pressure washer wand in our hands at some time.”

Workers’ employment longevity is evident in the fact that the management team averages a tenure of 17 years with the company. “Our culture is family,” Mary stresses, and this family appears to stick together — or at least return.

After graduating from Sibley East High School in Gaylord, Lincoln attended Augsburg University in Minneapolis, where he played football and majored in business management. During high school, he envisioned taking over the crop side of the family’s operation, but he didn’t move home right away.

After college graduation in 2003, Lincoln took a logistics job with Dart Transit Co., a trucking company based in Eagan, a southern suburb of the Twin Cities. “I was once told it’s good to get experience on someone else’s dime, so when you screw up it’s not on your own,” he says, but adding it was all the time “with the quest to get back home, but never 100% sure.” A mentor at Dart encouraged the young Langhorst to pursue his master’s degree, which he did on nights and weekends while at Dart.

When he worked on real-life projects for his master’s, he caught himself often referring back to Wakefield, “and it started to click, thinking, ‘Why am I going to earn this degree and use it for someone else. Why not use this education back at home?” he says, adding it was a good time to get back to the farm and the rural life, as he was preparing to get married. His wife, Jackie, was also from a small town.

Timing can be a double-edged sword, as his impending marriage also coincided with $7.50 corn and swine flu. “Probably a unique time to come back just with the economic challenges we were facing, but I kind of thought that if there’s any better time to learn, it’s to learn when it’s bad,” he says of 2008, when he joined the family enterprise. He is the fifth generation to farm in the family. “You learn to be disciplined,” he says.

Upon his return he took over sales, marketing and trucking from his mother. At this point, Chuck Peters was contemplating retirement, so Lincoln shadowed him for a couple of years in his duties, involving risk management, hedging and command to work with the Chicago Board of Trade. Once Peters retired, Lincoln stepped into those duties, “as well as any other duties that come up. No two days are ever the same here at Wakefield, that’s for sure.”

Atmosphere of respect
Lincoln is not the only one to return to the Langhorst-Wakefield family. Scott Van Deest started working with Steve Langhorst when Van Deest was a junior in high school and then moved to Colorado for four years. “When I moved back, I went to Steve and Mary to see if they had a job available for me again,” he says. They did, and he has been with the family ever since. Now a sow farm manager, he has been with the Langhorsts for 25 years. He also helps with the crop side.

“I think respect on both ends is a big thing,” Van Deest says of his reason to come back and to stay for as long as he has. “He [Steve] instills a lot of trust in you. I remember back in the day, when Steve would come into the barns and take the time to show you the way that he would like things to be done.”

The trust that Steve Langhorst has shown Van Deest has trickled down to the 10 full-time employees the sow farm manager has under his watch in his barn. “I enjoy the sow farm part of it, and always try to build a good team with the guidance of Steve and Mary and my supervisors. … I think we’ve always been one of the top-producing units, but that all comes from learning over the years from Steve and Mary, and all the decisions being made. You don’t have to make them on your own; we can talk through it. Let’s make the best decision we can for the company or the sow farm. … If something happens we’re going to work through it together, so the mistake is not going to happen again.”

Van Deest saw the strength of Steve Langhorst — and maybe what exemplifies a “Master” — when the company experienced a downturn. “He never once asked any farm that ‘We have to cut this or take shortcuts here because the markets are crap,’” Van Deest says. “That’s one thing that was never talked about when they had a bad month or more, because Steve knew if we cut here, it’s going to end up hurting us in the long run.”

Todd Marotz, head of production, was drawn to WPI by seeing from the outside how the operation has been structured. He works with genetics and construction as well as environmental issues within the company and has been with WPI for a little more than 12 years.

“I find it quite unique, with a company of this size, how the family is as involved in the day-to-day operations — whether it be with the internal multiplication, boar stud, contract growers, and just all the pieces of that — how involved they are,” he says.

Reaching out
Though hog production is the core of the WPI business, the Langhorsts believe it is important to recognize that they are operating within a community.

“They take a real connection with the employees,” Marotz says. “We like to think we have a relationship with everybody that is similar to a family.”

Community is a part of the We Care principles, which Mary actually had a hand in helping develop with the National Pork Board, and the WPI team believes in reaching out to those in the communities in the company’s footprint.

WPI operates under five core values, as posted on the company’s website:

  • Principled. We raise our pigs using the utmost ethical, innovative and nutritious methods.
  • Forward-thinking. We focus on continuous improvement and are always looking for opportunities to listen and change.
  • Dynamic and united. Our team members bring their own best practices, experiences and knowledge. We encourage the sharing of ideas because when shared, everyone’s game is raised.
  • Steady and stable. WPI is persistent in our pursuit of growth and sustainability, even in the most challenging economies.
  • From our family to yours. Each of our employees and growers play an important part in bringing dinner to the family table. We are proud consumers of our own product.

“They always go out of their way for people,” says Justin Sandmann, WPI’s chief financial officer since 2007. “Steve and Mary do things that as a boss they wouldn’t have to do, but they do. … They always go out of their way to treat employees as more than just a number.”

Sandmann says in addition to the Langhorsts reaching out to lend a helping hand, he says they are also good at rewarding employees for the work they’ve done, and not necessarily just monetarily. “They want to reward you for a job well done.”

Reaching out to those in need touched Sandmann closer, perhaps, than some of his coworkers. As part of a leadership program, Mary had employees write an essay about a time when they had made a difference in somebody else’s life.

“I had trouble coming up with anything grandiose,” he says. “I have two small children, so I hope I make a difference in their lives, but I didn’t have that one thing that I could point to. So, I wrote that and turned it in and told Mary that I think I failed here.”

Not more than a month later, he was sitting in an early childhood family education class with his son when he heard that one of his son’s classmates needed a kidney.

“When the mother was telling me about this, one of the first things that popped into my head was, ‘Here’s my chance to write Mary and say I made a difference in this boy’s life.’ I like to think that I may have stepped up anyway — but I’m not sure that I would have, had it not been having that focus or introspective look,” spurred by Mary’s essay assignment. Sandmann did donate the kidney, and now, a couple years later, the boy is doing well.

That’s maybe taking the community outreach to an extreme, but it’s the thought process instilled by the Langhorst family. Mary admits the exercise was meant to be thought-provoking, without intending even to read the final essays.

Sometimes, being a Master of the Pork Industry has little to do with what goes on in the barns.