'Smart' hog operation offers supply for the demand
A three-barn, 5,200 head breed-and-wean hog operation will soon start construction a few miles outside of Carroll.
The construction of the 'smart' facility named the Sholes Piggery is set to begin at the end of October and finish by spring of next year, according to investor Dave Hansen.
"There are three barns -- one for breeding and gestation, a farrowing building and a gilt-developer barn," said Hansen. "The gestation building has open pens with 250 sows in each pen."
Each week 2,400 to 2,500 21-day weaned pigs will be shipped out of the facility by a local trucking company to a Co-Op in Northwest Iowa to meet the demand in that area.
"The Co-Op approached me about this facility. I have other farms that I sell 21-day [weaned pigs] off of. They were looking to expand their business. They have farmers "
The facility is large but it's also 'smart.'
"Each sow is going to have a computer chip in her ear tag," Hansen said. "She will go through a feeding station that will read her chip and drop as much feed as we tell it she needs that day."
A computer will compile a list of sows whose chips haven't been read at the feeding station and employees will sort those pigs out from the rest of the group and run them through the feeding station. Every sow will be fed to condition in her specific stage of pregnancy.
The station is separated from the rest of the pen to allow sows to eat peacefully without the interruption of a boss sow stealing food or causing fights.
By utilizing the computer chip system, it ensures optimum nutrition for the sows as they gestate. Paired with the environmental conditions, sows are able to gestate comfortably.
Hansen discussed how the gestation barn is being kept at a lower temperature and will have air movement to keep heavily pregnant sows comfortable, while the farrowing barn will be kept warmer and the amount of air movement will be much less to keep the piglets warm.
"Everything is for pig comfort," Hansen said. "A comfortable pig is a happy, healthy, productive pig."
Even moving the gestating sows to the farrowing barn is helped by the computer chip system.
"When the sow comes through the feeding station at 114 days, instead of opening a gate to go back into the pen, it swings a different gate open to separate her out."
Those sows will head to the farrowing barn where they will deliver and wean each of their litters.
Once the 21 days are up, the sow heads back to the breeding and gestation barn and her litter moves into the gilt-developer barn to await travel.
Coleridge Grain has been contracted to haul all the pigs to the Co-Op and according to Hansen, that will happen twice a week to keep the health of the pigs safe.
"It helps with the health status of these pigs when you keep that window pretty tight as you fill a barn. The longer the window gets, the more diseases like pneumonias and streps set in."
If pigs are added to a barn over period of three weeks before being shipped, the barn isn't as clean as those first pigs had it and the newest pigs are at a disadvantage with weaker immune systems and that's when outbreaks occur.
Sows are bred five to six times before being sold off. This prevents her health from deteriorating and becoming an issue during the birthing process.
Hansen estimated each sow would ideally produce 55-60 pigs in her production time with the facility, with an average of 11-12 pigs in each of her litters.
When asked about the open pen gestation, Hansen explained that consumers drove that decision.
"We are serving a group of consumers that prefer open-pen gestation," he said. "90 percent of people are least-cost buyers but there is that 10 percent that will pay more just to have their specific request met. We are serving that group."
The cost of the open pen gestation does mean more employees on hand to keep fighting to a minimum and ensure the safety and wellbeing of all sows in each pen.
Hansen said 18 direct jobs will be available with the construction of the facility.
Which is part of the reason the location picked was the location picked.
Hansen listed numerous reasons for selecting the location roughly seven miles from Carroll and seven miles from Randolph, including the labor pool and driving distances.
Other reasons include the proximity to communities and neighboring farms as well as the hog density in the area and manure-application acres.
For obvious reasons like truck traffic, noise and smell, proximity to communities and neighboring farms was taken into account.
Hog population in the area is extremely important due to the spread of diseases -- including airborne pathogens. That's also the reason that there is an employee policy stating no contact with hogs outside the facility unless there is a 48 hour window of time before that employee is returning to work.
Each employee will shower and change clothing on site to minimize the risk of spreading diseases.
Another leading factor in the location decision was manure-application acres.
There will be manure to spare at the facility, which is why it was so important to have farmers who utilize manure on their acres around.
Before there is any manure to worry about, though, construction has to begin and finish. 21-day weaned pigs(delete) Gilts will be brought into the facility after completion, trained on the feeding station system, and grown until roughly 7 months.
At that point, the sows will be bred and the first cycle will have begun basically one year after construction kicked off.