October Pork Month comes to a close, new pork facility highlights some industry advancements

Feeding system at new pork facility ... An interior view of the new pork facility on Gronna Drive in rural Waterville during the public tour and open house held earlier this year. Gated pens and the feeding system are shown in the climate-controlled facility that holds up to 2,499 pigs at a time, finishing out over 7,000 pigs annually. Standard photo by Joe Moses.

New pork facility begins operation ... A new pork facility on Gronna Drive in rural Waterville was open for public tours earlier this year and began operation in July with the arrival of pigs from Reicks View Farms. Pictured is the outside of the pork facility with visible bio-security measures including screening to keep birds out and rocks surrounding the facility to deter rodents from coming near the facility. Standard photo by Joe Moses.

The public tours pork facility ... The public was given a rare opportunity to tour a newly-built pork facility constructed this year on Gronna Drive in rural Waterville. Experts in the industry provided tours of the climate-controlled facility July 17 prior to the July 20 arrival of pigs from Reicks View Farms. Standard photo by Joe Moses.

by Joe Moses

Pork Month has come to a close with the end of October and another year for the pork industry has almost come to a close for 2017. The pork industry has proven to be an integral part of the local agriculture-based economy in northeast Iowa. According to the Iowa Pork Producers Association’s 2017 data, the pork industry in Allamakee County represents 393 jobs with $21.9 million in labor income, producing $1.4 million in state and local taxes and $3.1 million in federal taxes. Countywide, pork accounts for $53.5 million in sales with the involvement of 49 farms hosting an inventory of 107,184 hogs.

Earlier this year, the public was given an opportunity to tour a modern pork facility and ask questions of various experts in the industry when a new hog finishing facility was constructed on Gronna Drive in rural Waterville. Prior to the first delivery of pigs by Reicks View Farms to the newly built finisher facility, tours of this confined animal feeding operation (CAFO) included various sections of the facility, including the computerized control room that helps regulate environmental aspects along with food and water distribution, as well as the gated pens and areas used to separate pigs at different stages of growth within the facility.

Due to bio-security concerns, very few individuals not working in this industry have been able to view the interior of such a facility. Gene Noem, Director of Swine Operations for Reicks View Farms out of Lawler, discussed the negative perceptions that bio-security has created, with some viewing it as secretive, which Noem says is not the case at all. Noem clarified that facilities like this are designed with bio-security in mind, only for the care of animals. Noem explained different aspects of bio-security and disease transmission, specifically pig-to-pig, manure and rodent/bird, and the facility’s design, including the choice of rocks surrounding the building, which helps prevent rodents that will not walk on uneven rock surfaces, and screening that does not allow birds to enter the building. All of these features are deliberate to provide a healthy environment for the pigs being raised.

Noem discussed that the facility on Gronna Drive has a 2,499 animal capacity and will produce three groups of hogs throughout the year, a total of more than 7,000 annually. Noem indicated that pigs are brought in weighing 55 pounds and will leave the facility at 270-290 pounds, sometimes less, depending on the wishes of the buyer. In describing the location, Noem discussed that this location is very good without any other CAFOs in the vicinity, which will help prevent disease transmission.

With the building’s design allowing the air and environment to be regulated by a computer system in the control room within the CAFO, inlets on the ceiling are designed to circulate fresh air and heated air in the winter. Misters or sprinklers installed into the walls help with evaporative cooling, as pigs produce a considerable amount of heat and humidity, according to Noem. He said, by design, this modern environmentally-controlled facility was built with the comfort and health of pigs as a top concern, which benefits their growth and the final product families serve at their tables.

During tours of the facility, Noem and other experts discussed the “We Care” ethical principles for pork producers that were on display at the facility:

• Produce safe food
• Protect and promote animal well-being
• Ensure practices to protect public health
• Safeguard natural resources in all practices
• Provide a work environment that is safe and consistent with our other ethical principles
• Contribute to a better quality of life in local communities.

Ross Kiehne, DVM of St. Peter, MN described the advances made with facilities like this new one in rural Waterville and the positive strides that have been made in the pork industry in general. “The building designs have continually improved, we make the barns and environment better for the pig every year. With all the investments in these improvements in the design of barns, along with other advancements in the past 50 years, we have been able to reduce our land usage by 78%, water usage by 41% and our carbon footprint by 35% to make the same tasty pound of pork.”

Kiehne advised, “Another point I am very proud of is how healthy and lean pork is. There are seven cuts of pork that are leaner than a skinless chicken breast, and pork loin has been recognized by the American Heart Association as a heart healthy choice.”

Kiehne also indicated, “Due to the way we utilize veterinarian oversight for antibiotics and follow strict withdrawal times on antibiotics, we can ensure that if a pig gets an antibiotic sometime in its lifetime, the meat we eat at the end is free of antibiotic residue, making every pig and cut of pork very safe for consumption.”

Agronomist/Manure Plan Manager Troy Peterson with Waukon Feed Ranch discussed the benefits of this new facility, as not only producing quality pork, but an operation that complements the crop farming and other operations essential to the farming business it is a part of. Peterson commented that the pork facility on the farm is a way to diversify from a business standpoint, and from an agronomy perspective, a great way to promote soil health through the application of manure to cropland.

He said that the benefits of soil nutrients provided through the managed application of manure, a process that has been improved upon and refined over the years, also proves to be environmentally conscious by helping to prevent run-off and protecting ground water. Peterson further indicated that this finisher facility is an important piece of the long-term business plan for this farm, allowing equity to be built and promoting the continued growth of the farm’s other operations.

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