Rivalry Between Sow Farms Heats Up

posted on Thursday, August 8, 2019

Sandy Hill Sow Farm versus Yale? We didn’t believe it, until sow supervisor Don Hunt released the weekly SelectPride list. There’s a one point difference between these farms, in fact it’s one-tenths of a percentage point.

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Bill and his Yale team are sitting in the number four spot, Max and his Sandy Hill team in five. Everyone knows we’re early in Q3 reporting and a lot can happen, but as these two teams duke it out, let’s take a big collective pause and recognize something….bigger.

First, we’re on pace to produce 1.5B pounds of pork. Our entire sow system has improved farrow rate, born alive and pigs weaned per sow. Less PRRS thanks to filtration and better biosecurity, progress made in genetic improvement, and most importantly, our caretakers who have a laser-like focus on day-to-day execution of all of the little things that make a difference, like breeding targets, and day one pig care.

Last quarter we averaged 30 pigs/sow/year—a record for Iowa Select Farms. After a rough winter and rougher spring, health and performance in finishing is improving.

But back to the Yale and Sandy Hill teams, Dan Dean, director of sow production, says he couldn’t be more proud of them. “I’ve been in sow production for over 20 years and I have never seen anything like this,” said Dan.

Sandy Hill is averaging 15.1 total born and 13.9 born alive…with gilts. They’re weaning an average of 12.9 per sow. “Yale is running similar numbers—some higher, some lower,” said Max. “It’s not often you have two nearly identical farms start up at the same time and see numbers so close. These minimal differences in the weekly stats between our farms is what makes this fun, and really drives the competition.”

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Max says he’s always checking out the stats from lot of different farms, many he holds dear. “My team here has great friends and family members who work at other farms,” said Max. “It may seem like we are competing, but really we’re rooting for each other and all pushing each other to get better.”

A little history here…it was just three years ago when Max’s first Iowa Select Farms “family” was featured in an epic comeback story titled “Started at the Bottom Now We’re Here.” Some of his friends from that home farm—Kielsmeier (Sow 12)—are now managing their own. Rachel Waters leads Arends (Sow 14) and Tyler Albers is at the helm of Holstein (Sow 31). Max also checks in on his buddy, Sam Thielen, who manages Miller (Sow 13) where Max worked briefly before heading to Sandy Hill.

Both Bill and Max say the competition certainly keeps things interesting and keeps the teams fighting to get better.

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Yale has the team with a lot of experience--we shared a story on this farm a few weeks ago. Max’s team is a bit newer to livestock care; in fact, no one has been there more than five years, and most just started when the farm did. He had only three people on his farm who knew how to breed an animal, yet intern-turned-breeding-department-head Alex Umbaugh and his breeding team hit a 94% farrowing rate.

The team at Sandy Hill also welcomed four employees who are training for Upland Sow Farm, set to open in September. Jacob, Caleb, MicKenzie and Trey have been learning and helping at the same time, which Max says has been beneficial.

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“For our team to be so close in comparison to Yale, with so little experience is something in itself to be proud of,” said Max. “With the early mornings and long days, seeing our farm climb towards the top of the list has made it all worth it.”

The Sandy Hill team consists of—Greg Conner, gestation specialist; Johnie Harlen, caretaker; Kolten Koeppen, caretaker; Francesca Magnussen, newborn pig specialist; Tiffany Marshall, caretaker; Tim McGuire, caretaker; Samara Neubauer, newborn pig specialist; William Sindt Jr., heat check/AI specialist; Tim Russel, caretaker; Jacob Stratton, newborn pig specialist; Alex Umbaugh, breeding department head; Jose Rodriguez Valle, part-time caretaker and Tanner Snyder, part time caretaker.