Finding a Groove at Elmand Sow Farm

posted on Wednesday, April 25, 2018

“I’ve learned if you are willing to learn, the people here are always willing to teach,” said Rachael Waters, the breeding department head at Elmand Sow Farm. Racheal and Dustin Peck, the farm’s manager, are leading a new team through both the challenges and the triumphs that come with starting up a new sow farm.

“We’re starting to come together as a team now, so much of this work is done as a farrowing department, as a breeding department, and more importantly, as an entire farm,” said Dustin. “Things are starting to fall into place and we’re learning how to do things better every day.”

Elmand Sow Farm was welcomed to the world in late December. Located near Chester, Iowa, the farm is the fifth new sow farm for Iowa Select Farms. While the farm opened without the hustle and bustle of an open house, it was brought to life with bright wall wraps, bright green splashes of paint and the excitement of the new team.

The Saratoga gilt development team had started breeding their gilts in October, and began sending the loads over in early January—83 loads to be exact—to the farm. Litters of baby piglets began arriving a month later, and the farm has been rolling ever since.

Dustin said his team is focused on breeding, heat checking and day one care. As new sow farms with new teams start up, these become the “big three”—the most important practices to perfect. “Each week will keep layering on more ways to make this farm better, but for now we are focused on the fundamentals of good animal care,” said Dustin.

Dustin joined Iowa Select Farms in 2010 as a technician at Sow 25, and then moved to Sow 113 to fill the role of breeding department head. When the manager (Shawn Chaplin) moved over to dual manage Miller and Kielsmeier Sow Farms, Dustin stepped up to lead the farm.

Late last year Dustin switched farms again, this time moving to Riceville, Iowa to start up Elmand—Sow 35. Much like others, the farm is a positively filtered, 7,500 head pen gestation farm. It’s also solar thermal, which you’ll read about in the next story.

Before taking the reins, Dustin spent a month traveling to other sow farms to be trained on the filtration system and the extra biosecurity measures in place. Many managers and supervisors helped train Dustin and his new team. Chris Nydegger spent time at the farm, showing the team how to work with gilts and sows in pen gestation. Dustin said he also made extra time to visit with managers at sow farms that had been remodeled to positive filtration and pen gestation, such as Lance Lawrence over at Stockdale Sow Farm.

Much like Dustin, Rachael relocated from Kielsmeier Sow Farm to Elmand. Rachael moved from the breed lead at a 4,200 head farm to the breeding department head of this 7,500 head farm—a big jump in responsibility. Rachael, who recently earned an animal science degree from Iowa State University, had a focus on cattle prior to joining Iowa Select Farms.

“As the breed lead at Kielsmeier, I remember trying to work towards a place where I was thinking ahead and figuring out what I needed to do before being asked,” said Rachael. “Now that I am a department head, it’s more about the people—training, finding their strengths and developing them as a team.”

Rachael says their preg checking results are coming back higher than expected, which makes her extra proud of her new team. “I have several employee who came from gilt developers, and breeding and heat checking is a little different in parity sows,” she said. “We’re taking our time, and looking at each person’s preg check percentage and finding areas we can improve.”

Rachael is even working on some pop quizzes for her team, to keep work fun and check their knowledge of all of the technical principles of swine breeding and reproduction. “There’s a lot that goes into breeding, and I want them to know everything they can and be as excited about it as I am,” she said.

With both Dustin and Rachael relocating to Riceville, along with several others, they said they are getting along just fine in the small town. “We’ve met a lot of people and everyone here is so nice, and with a town like Riceville, there is a good chance the people you meet also work for the company,” said Rachael.

“When we go to the golf course or out for supper, we usually end up talking about pigs, and it’s fun, because we get ideas from people at the other farms, and it helps all of us get better.”

Dustin said he’s also appreciative of the Saratoga gilt development team. “Craig (Whalen) did a heck of a job making sure I knew what was coming in for gilts,” said Dustin. “So many people have helped get this farm up and going, and we have a bright future here.”

The Elmand Sow Farm team consists of Dustin Peck, Rachael Waters, Justin Betts, Scott Holthaus, Parker Blunt, Trae Dozark, Kiel Helfter, Yara Ramirez Garcia, Miguel Angel Gamboa Banuelos, Lacy Quam, Saul Villa Alcala, Samuel Villa Alcala, Melanie Ondrashek, Roberta Newberry, Ubaldo (Ben) Cano Mendoza, Adriana Gonzalez Diaz, Miguel Miranda Ortiz and Mike Gehrke.