"This is my dream job!" Jamie Zellweger
"This is my dream job,” said Jamie Zellweger, manager of the boar isolation farms—Hefner, and now the on-site isolation room at the new Cheers Gene Transfer Center. “Growing up I always wanted to be in the hog industry. Being able to live and raise a family in my hometown of Creston and manage a farm has made for a great career.”
Jamie joined Iowa Select Farms thirteen years ago, when Hefner was first built. Originally designed to be a 170 head boar stud, it’s been a boar isolation farm for eight years.
Described as a “small but mighty farm,” Jamie’s job is to care for the growing boars and keep them disease free—which means away from other pigs…and people.
The new Cheers farm has an on-site boar isolation room with a separate entrance, loading dock and airflow. Once opened, Jamie will split her time between Hefner and Cheers, overseeing all aspects of boar isolation.
“Jamie is one of the toughest employees we have,” said Brian Qualley, Gene Transfer Center Supervisor. “Her loads show up early in the morning or late at night, and she personally unloads the animals and gets them settled in. She draws blood samples from 350 pound boars—she has no fear.”
Because of the rules around isolation, one might assume Jamie lives a lonely work life, but she’s more than connected to her teams at the studs. Jamie communicates and coordinates movements, health results, feed deliveries and production information to her teammates daily and several of her fellow employees at Hastings can help cover her workload if she is unable.
At Hefner, Jamie receives boars from PIC and Danbred at six months old, and then cares for them for five weeks through 350 pounds.
PIC provides the maternal line boars for the multiplier, Sow 29, and Danbred supplies the majority of boars for the commercial system.
When the pigs arrive, Jamie moves them in and gets then settled—ventilation, feed, fresh water and an laser focus on observing health—appetite, loose stool, coughing. She sets up knotted ropes in the pens, enticing the pigs to chew on the ropes and leave deposits of their oral fluids (spit) behind. She collects them, squeezes the fluids into a plastic bag and ships to the Iowa State University Vet Diagnostic Lab.
She also routinely pulls blood samples for the lab to test for PRRS. She vaccinates the pigs at entry and again at four weeks, and then does more rounds of rope testing.
“Jamie is incredibly detail-oriented and dedicated,” said Brian. “We entrust her with a lot of responsibility and she has never let anyone down. Whatever the hurdle, Jamie will figure out a way to accomplish.”
“Biosecurity and health monitoring are critical,” said Jamie, who spends her days choring the barn, observing the animals and walking them up and down the aisles so they get comfortable with human caretakers. “It’s important that all of their needs are met, and they are calm and well-cared for.”
After five weeks with Jamie, the boars are ready to be moved up to Qualley Boar Stud and over into the stud area of Cheers. It’s an all in all out rotation, every five weeks flowing boars to the studs.
Her boars ultimately provide genetics to all 48 sow farms, plus gilt developers in the system. “Kicking off the creation of five million market pigs is a big responsibility, one that I take seriously,” said Jamie.
“I know I have a lot of responsibility, and when the production well-being and biosecurity specialists show up I am 100% accountable for everything that goes on here,” said Jamie.
Jamie says she’s reflected a lot lately about the growth of Iowa Select Farms. “We’re a family-owned company, and still it feels like it,” said Jamie. “Everyone gets treated like family, and the way we care about our communities—it still shows, even more now, because we’re able to do so much more.”