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Sunday, February 14, 2016

Flat Aggie Visits the Anderson Farms Hog Operation

I arrived at Anderson Farms in Shabbona, Illinois on a cold day in February and was greeted by the family dog, Max! 
I was excited to see all the grain bins, barns, buildings, trucks, and tractors around the farm. This looked like a very busy place to spend some time.
I was told that the family are third generation farmers here in northern Illinois. They farm 1,000 acres of corn, soybeans, and wheat. 

They also operate a 350 sow, farrow to finish, hog operation that produces an average of 570 pigs a month or 7,000 pigs a year. That is a lot of bacon, pork chops, sausage, and pepperoni!
I started my tour of the farm where the pigs are.  This is one of the gestation barns where only the pregnant sows live.  They are pregnant for 3months + 3weeks + 3 days!  The breeding, gestation and farrowing barns are all connected so it is easier to move the sows from one barn to the next, no matter the weather! This farmer walks them, inside between the buildings. Breeding means to “get pregnant.” Although they have one boar (dad hog) they use artificial insemination at Anderson Farms when breeding the sows. Sows are the mom pigs. Farrow means “to give birth.” 
This farm uses some of the current technology available to swine (generic word for all pigs or hogs) producers to help get “the chores” done. As a simple explanation, the RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) ear tag each pig has helps store and track information about the sow the farmer enters in a database.   

Some of the information includes how old they are, how much they weigh, how many litters (group of piglets born at one time) they have had, any injuries or illness, and how far along they are in their gestation period.
As the sow passes thru this gate of the feeding station, it’s ear tag is read and the appropriate amount of food is then dispensed for eating. When they are done, they exit through the other side, and another sow can go eat. 

I asked where they get the pig feed from and I was told that they mix it right there on the farm! So, we went to take a look. I was also told that this is also where the barn cats live!

They use their own harvested corn, add some soybean meal, vitamins and minerals. They make different batches in the feed mixer, pictured behind me, with different amounts of the vitamins and minerals depending on the age and stage of the pig. The feed is then transferred into the feed cart through an auger. They haul the feed to the building it was made for and fill the feeders on the outside of the building. Another auger gets the feed to the pigs inside. This is a daily occurrence with 3,000 pigs on the farm at any given time!
When the sow is ready to farrow, the farmer walks her to the “farrowing house” where she is place in a stall. She is limited to the center of the stall by gates to protect the piglets and reduce their chance of being laid on. A heat lamp and a heat mat are also there to keep the piglets warm when they are first born. A newborn piglet weights about 4 pounds.
An average litter is 14 piglets. If a sow is unable to care for any or all her piglets, some or all can be placed with another sow. At Anderson Farms, the largest litter one sow had was 20 live piglets born. The largest litter one sow was able to feed until weaning (separated from the sow) was 16 piglets! The average one sow could feed is 11. 

By 10 days old they are supplemented (added to their diet) with feed. In the farrowing house, the sows are all hand fed by the farmer. No RFID feeding stations here.  At 21 days old it is time for the piglets to be weaned from the sow and moved to the finisher. They weigh about 14 pounds now. 

Weaning day is quite the production here on the farm. All hands on deck. That includes the farmer’s college kids hoping to sleep in when visiting at home! After regular morning chores are done, which includes walking through all the buildings and making sure all the pigs are fed or have feed available, all waterers are working, and a basic wellness check is made, it’s time to wean (separate the piglets from the sow).
On this farm they use an old school bus to haul the piglets from the farrowing house across the farm to one of the finisher buildings!
They give the piglets one last vaccination before they separate the barrows (boy pigs) from gilts (girl pigs) and put them on the bus. Apparently barrows and gilts mixed in a pen do not get along well together! They are separated to decrease the potential fights that could lead to injuries. They will stay in the finisher for about 5 months, until they are ready for market.

I knew farmers were busy, but after spending three weeks at Anderson Farms during the winter just learning about their livestock, or hog farming, I can’t imagine how much busier it gets when they add their crop farming and begin planting the crops in the spring! I am off to Iowa now to learn more about what happens in the finisher and how another swine producer’s operation works.

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