Opened Last Fall, Yale Sow Farm Now Buzzes With Activity
“This team has tremendous pride in what they do,” said Bill Bergquist, farm manager of Yale Sow Farm near Klemme, Iowa. “They are professional caretakers and they are proud of that fact, and they just conquered a monumental project.”
Bill and his team just survived a new farm start-up, a project that is a tremendous undertaking for a newly-formed team. Chris Nydegger, supervisor to the farm, said the team did an exceptional job of planning, communicating and following through on every single detail, to the point where one could say the only thing missing was a pizza cutter for the kitchen drawer.
Opened last fall, Yale Sow Farm now buzzes with activity. The team at this open pen gestation, positively-filtered sow farm had the luxury of on-site breeding, giving them three months, three weeks and three days to prepare for their first litters.
Now, they are in their fourth week of weaning pigs. A farm that has a goal of weaning 4,095 pigs a week already has something to celebrate. They had 5,198 weaned pigs their first week farrowing, 5,401 the second week and 5,264 the third week—remarkable results.
With more week 23-26 numbers in the books, they hit a 12.9 wean average per sow farrowed (11.7 target), 6.4% pre wean mortality (13% target), 13.6 born alive with gilts (13.7 target), 15.2 total born (15.0 target) and a 93.6% farrow rate (90% target).
Chris and Bill had been rehearsing for months prior to the farm opening, traveling up to Primrose Sow Farm to learn from Aaron Perry, then to Elmand Sow Farm to visit with Dustin Peck, and finally over to Jamestown Sow Farm to connect with Kaci Pohlman--all three managers of new 7,500 head sow farms.
“They helped us identify potential pitfalls to avoid,” said Bill. “I can’t thank them enough for the time they took to walk us through their farms and be honest with what it was going to take to do this.”
Dr. Pete Thomas, the farm’s veterinarian, also helped the team get prepared, and Tiffany Schnitker and Adriana Hernandez with the Production Well-Being team became regulars, both helping with “day one” and room owner training the first week of farrowing.
Bill has been with Iowa Select Farms for six years, previously managing Stumme Sow Farm. He said starting up Yale has been amazing to be a part of, thanks to the experience of his team.
Hebert Aragon, farrowing department head, was the farm manager at Sow 114 where he led his team to a “most improved” sow farm award in 2017. The farrowing assistant department head, Amy Klein, had experience at Sow 8. Rogelio Cruz Bracamontez, the breeding department head, worked at Kramer, Peterson and Jacobsen sow farms. The breeding assistant department head, Karla Costilla-Cantu, came from a gilt developer where she honed her breeding skills. Kailey Uhde transferred from Stockdale Sow Farm a couple of weeks ago, and then Perla Ramirez and her experience in newborn pig care gave farrowing a huge boost. This team has some serious game.
A few counties over is Sandy Hill Sow Farm, another new farm that opened just one week earlier than Yale. Sandy Hill is led by Max Klepper, Alex Umbaugh and Jacob Stratton. Similar farm, same layout, same health status and a staff with a tremendous amount of care, energy and dedication—and they are in an intense competition.
White boards in the breakroom at Yale display the farm’s goals in green and the actual results in red, or black, all color coded according to whether they met, exceeded or fell under their weekly goals. In fourth color is Sandy Hill’s results. When we asked Bill if Max and his team know the competition even exists, he laughs. “Oh, he’s well aware,” says Bill.
Bill says his Yale team has a goal of getting in the top ten of SelectPride within the first year. He also wants to keep his team in place—he appreciates what each one brings to the table, and believes this team will do great things if they all stay together.
Bill says his team has a great routine down and they are working on getting better. In the morning, the staff steadily and fluidly move in and out of the rooms and areas of the barns going about their daily chores. At lunch, they gather around the breakroom table. The team is a mix of Hispanic and Caucasian, and they are sure to sit “every other” around the table, with no preference to what department they are in, either. “We do this so we can get better at communicating, says Bill.
The farm also has a tradition of watching 20 minutes of a movie together, as a lunch break. “Any stress or frustrations we’ve had in the morning are gone with 20 minutes of Tommy Boy,” said Bill. “Food and laughter brings us all together, and that’s a good thing.”
The farrowing team is made up of Hebert Aragon Nunez, farrowing department head; Amy Klein, assistant farrowing department head; Perla Hernandez Ramirez, newborn pig specialist; Kailey Uhde, newborn pig specialist and Sara Brown, Kortney Dean, Adden Swenson, Angel Islas Martinez, Arnulfo Lemus Gonzalez, Santos Ruiz Rivero, Rigoberto Dominguez Cruz and Maria Gallardo, caretakers.
The breeding team is made up of Rogelio Cruz Bracamontez, breeding department head; Karla Costilla-Cantu, assistant breeding department head; Ian Green, heat check/AI specialist; Ilmer Sanchez Medina, heat check/AI specialist and Roberto Cantu Guajardo, gestation specialist.
Special thanks to the gilt development, production, construction and support services teams for your contributions to Yale Sow Farm!