October is Pork Month: Waukon Feed Ranch manages enough pork to feed 1.3 million people

by Lissa Blake

With the statistic in mind that the average person eats almost 64 pounds of pork a year, Waukon Feed Ranch (WFR) helps feed around 1.3 million people per year.
“The farms Waukon Feed Ranch manages produce 81 million pounds of pork a year,” said Jeff Monk, WFR swine division manager.
“WFR is proud to be a contributor to the hog industry, economic development and one of the largest employers in Allamakee County,” said Nancy Everman, human relations manager at WFR.

Waukon Feed Ranch works in partnership with Holden Farms of Northfield, MN, which supplies the pigs and a number of investors, who own the different facilities. “WFR provides the management for the facilities, including staffing the unit and making sure the building itself is being cared for,” said Everman.
WFR works with 34 growers and 54 hog finishing sites. Their newest venture is W & M Ag LLC, which opened in October of last year. “We have many investors from all walks of life. Some grew up with pigs and decided to invest back into this. We have great partners and employees who are able to provide quality pork products to feed the world,” said Everman.

W & M
W & M Ag, LLC, which opened near Dorchester in September of last year, encompasses five acres under one roof. It houses 4,500 sows, employs 15 employees, turns out 2,250 nursery pigs per week, produces more than 23.4 million pounds of pork annually and utilizes 534,247 tons of feed on an annual basis.
“It’s the pig hotel of all pig hotels,” said Brad Herman, Waukon Feed Ranch general manager.
Monk said animal welfare is top priority at the facility, which gets in new gilts (female pigs which have never been bred) every 28 days. All gilts at the facility are bred via artificial insemination with semen that is tested for viability on a regular basis. “We use the best genetic qualities from a variety of breeds,” said Monk.

The average gilt is brought to the facility at around three months old and is kept in quarantine until its second heat, around seven months, before being bred. “We do that for biosecurity - to have full control of everything that comes into the building,” said Carlton Bakken, who manages the facility.
A sow’s gestation period is three months, three weeks and three days and 70 percent of them have between 12 and 15 piglets. “Fifteen percent have less and 15 percent have more,” said Monk. “Our record here was 27 pigs.”
Most sows have an average of 2.5 litters per year and have between four and five litters total before being sent to market.

Recently, W & M received a MicroZone grant for an automated system which automatically adjusts heat output from heat lamps and mats. Based on room temperature changes and a growing animal’s needs, the piglets' micro-environment can be thermally optimized.
Each group of piglets has a creep mat, which is warmed by a heat lamp, which is automatically adjusted based on the litters’ changing needs. “When they’re born, the creep mats are kept at around 95 degrees, as they get older, that temperature gradually drops,” said Bakken.
All piglets receive ear tattoos, as required by law, at one day of age. By 18-20 days they are eating solid food, and by 22 days they are weaned. After six weeks in the nursery, they are then shipped to a grower and then a finisher, which are all part of the Holden Farms network.
“The Holden system provides enough hogs to account for processing at Tysons in Waterloo one day a week,” said Everman.

In addition, strict quarantines exist regarding any animals going in and out of the building, and any person entering or leaving the building has to follow a protocol as well. “We have a strict shower-in, shower-out policy as well. We want to keep our animals as healthy as possible and minimize the risk for disease,” said Monk.
All employees are required to complete Pork Quality Assurance training, a producer education and certification program to reduce the risk of violative animal health produce residues program. All truckers are trained in Transportation Quality Assurance.

In addressing environmental concerns about the facility’s waste products, Herman said for each facility WFR manages, they are required to put together a manure management plan. “Our manure is more regulated than any other application of fertilizer in the county,” said Herman.
Bakken added a facility the size of W & M provides natural fertilizer for around 700 acres of land. In addition, other facilities account for more than 34,000 acres of farmland fertilized with manure rather than commercial fertilizer. “This saves an estimated $400 an acre in expense or a total of $14 million annually for area farmers,” said Everman.
“Manure is a valuable nutrient and farmers utilize that,” added Herman.

Between WFR’s agronomy center outside of Waukon and the six sow units it manages, WFR has become one of Allamakee County’s largest agricultural employers with around 130 employees. WFR has 13 trucks and 22 semi tractors in their fleet, delivering feed, seed crop inputs, fuel and grain to area farmers. It purchases more than 370,000 of fuel locally.
In addition, over three million bushels of grain are marketed through WFR annually for area corn and soybean producers.
According to Everman, the impact WFR has on the county is exponential. “All in all, over 250 people are employed through various ag businesses. Their wages roll through the community a minimum of seven times by purchasing groceries, fuel, clothing, medical and other family needs supporting local businesses,” said Everman. When WFR builds a new unit they also try to use local contractors, according to Monk.

“The biggest thing I want people to know is that we’re helping feed the world,” said Monk.
“We enjoy the hog industry and embrace it to try to find ways to improve all aspects,” added Herman.