A Natural-Born Leader

posted on Monday, October 22, 2018

“I have always felt right at home around livestock,” said Shaun Walkup, breeding department head at Smyrna Sow Farm near Woodburn, Iowa. “I’m lucky to have found a great opportunity around my hometown.”

Shaun grew up on a row crop, swine and cattle farm south of Diagonal. When he was little, his parents raised feeder pigs and farrowed sows in an old farrowing shed. Still to this day, he helps with cattle chores on his dad’s farm.

While in high school, he began working at Iowa Select Farms part time, rotating through breeding and farrowing at nearby sow and gilt development farms. After graduation he joined Iowa Select Farms full-time, filling roles at Parker, Ochylski and Ringgold sow farms, and also over at Stalker 1 and Stalker 2, multiplication grow out and gilt developers.

Shaun has yet to turn down a challenge, and knows his career path will help him now more than ever. For seven years he worked right alongside managers who are today some of our most experienced and proven leaders.

He left for a few years to work cattle and join a tiling business. In January 2017, Shaun came back, joining Parker Sow Farm again as an animal caretaker. Within three months, he was a day one lead. "The farm was firmly in the top three spots of SelectPride for two years in a row,” said Don Hunt, sow supervisor for the southern Iowa region. “Shaun’s seen what it takes to consistently get high production numbers.”

Motivated to keep moving up, this summer he applied for the breeding department head position for Smyrna. 

“Shaun's been around livestock his whole life and it shows,” said Don. “This really makes him a great leader and a strong trainer. His time in breeding, farrowing and gilt development since he was 16 years old has given him a lot of experience.”

“Looking back, I had great teachers and I am appreciative of that,” said Shaun, reflecting on the managers who influenced him years ago. “When I look back at where I was, I’m grateful for the time them spent training and showing me how they coach and lead teams."

Even with mentors like Mikey Shields, Joe Becker, Louis Lumbard, Audrey Shelley and Clint Whittington, Shaun said his most influential teachers have been his parents.

His dad, Robert, managed Parker Sow Farm for 16 years before he went to work at the meat locker in Mount Ayr. His mother, Misty, is the farrowing department head next door at Last Chance Sow Farm. She also lent a hand in preparing Shaun’s counterpart in farrowing, Megan Foster, for her new role.

“I’m a driver, I always want to get things up and moving,” said Shaun. “My mom taught me to slow down a little, be patient and most of all be myself. She’s been a big influence on my life.”

Don says Shaun always comes in ready to get to work. “He’s a high energy guy with a lot of passion for pork production,” said Don. “He shows up motivated to jump in and start making progress. Leaders like Shaun can’t wait to get their teams as excited about pork production as he is, and show them the potential of what people can do.”

Things have happened fast since the opening of Smyrna Sow Farm. Gilts began arriving at the farm last Wednesday and the first litters arrived earlier than expected. So far the numbers are excellent— a total born of 15.2 and born alive of 13.6.

Shaun and his team have their eyes on feed consumption, behavior, body conditions and overall health of the animals. They’re also watching their breed dates, which will indicate when it’s time to move them down to farrowing.

“Shaun’s experience has been beneficial through this start-up, he know how to get the farm set up and get the animals moved in,” said Don.

Shaun says his focus for the first few weeks will be getting the gilts settled, and then lending a hand to the farrowing team. “We’ll be helping Megan and her team with whatever they need,” said Shaun. “With the gilts coming in bred, our work really begins to take shape after the first litters are born, so we’re going to do everything we can to help them get pigs weaned.”

After that, Shaun’s team really springs into action. “I love teaching, and am most looking forward to training and settling in with my team,” said Shaun. “Most of all, we’re ready to show everyone what Smyrna can do.”