Sleepy Hollow Sow Farm Rightfully Earns "Most Improved"

posted on Tuesday, July 30, 2019

“You see a lot of people give up when faced with a challenge,” said Dan Dean, director of sow production. “But this crew never gave up. They took a step back, focused on the basics, celebrated the small victories and kept pushing. To say they’ve been through a lot is an understatement.”Sleepy Hollow Team

It’s been a tough couple of years for Sleepy Hollow Sow 36. Back in June 2017 the farm underwent a remodel—three months into it, the farm broke with PRRS.

“That was definitely an “oh bleep” moment,” chuckled Sawyer Hrdlicka, who’s been an Iowa Select Farms’ employee since 2016. “We went from being really excited about a remodel and having the plans in place to not knowing what the heck to do. It threw everyone a curve ball.”

Piglets nursing

Speaking of curve balls—another was quickly thrown into the game plan.

“In the midst of health issues, we lost a large majority of the farm staff,” said Dan. “So not only were we faced with a remodel and health setbacks, but now we were really short help. We weren’t quite sure what to do or who was going to do it.”

Baby piglet Sow Farm members

To get them through the remodel, Sawyer, Dan, Wendy Swarthout, Lynn Pavlovic, DVM (Sleepy Hollow veterinarian) and supervisor Eric Risley, worked hard training temporary help.

Just as they were coming to terms with their new “normal”, the farm’s manager left. Sawyer stepped in to assume the role in the interim. During that transition, the farm didn’t miss a beat—they couldn’t afford to. Unfortunately, things still weren’t looking up for Sow 36.

Sow farm awards

As the remodel was nearing completion in December of 2017, nearby Wood GDU also broke with PRRS. As fate would have it, the strain, although different, had more similarities than differences so the decision was made to place those gilts at Sow 36. The farm was now positive with two strains of PRRS.

In February of 2018, Scott Abels made the move to Northwest Iowa to manage the farm.

“It definitely wasn’t the most ideal circumstances to take on a new farm,” Scott said. “But I saw how hard Wendy, Sawyer, Lynn and Eric had been working to keep the farm running. I wanted to help.”

Sleepy Hollow Team Member

At this time, the herd was in closure again with two strains of PRRS. They were following all of the strict procedures and biosecurity protocols a cleanup requires. The team had bulked up with the addition of Karen Reyes-Santiago, Andrea Schoenenberger and new farm supervisor, Dan Sander. Things were starting to look up—or so they thought.

“During routine testing in April of 2018 we found a third strain of PRRS,” said Lynn, the farm’s veterinarian. “We’re not sure where that came from but think it was from when we were changing the farm’s filters. Either way, it was a huge blow to morale.”

Sleepy Hollow Team MemberBaby piglet

When Lynn broke the news, the farm thought she was joking.

“At first we laughed because we didn’t think it was even in the realm of possibilities to get a third strain,” said Sawyer. “Things had suddenly gone from bad, to really bad, to worse.”

It was one step forward and two steps back for the crew at 36. They kept moving and loaded the farm back up, exposed the herd to PRRS again and went back into closure. According to Lynn, the months that followed were okay. In September, just as pace was picking back up, they found Mycoplasma pneumonia.

Sleepy Hollow Team Member

“I’ve definitely spent more time at this farm than any other in my territory,” joked Lynn. “But this crew never stopped. Everyone pulled their weight when times were really, really bad.”

Because we know it’s a lot to follow, here’s a quick summary up to this point—remodel, PRRS, staffing issues, more PRRS, interim farm manager, new farm manager, new supervisor, new employees, MORE PRRS, Myco. And you thought you were having a rough day.

So, what exactly kept the farm going when the going got tough?

Sleepy Hollow Team Member

“We learned to celebrate the little things,” recalled Wendy. “Laughter can really change your day. So we started to joke as much as we could and focus on the light at the end of the tunnel, even if it was just a speck.”

Finally, in April of 2019 the farm was declared “clean.” The team moved in gilts, and in May Sleepy Hollow was officially declared PRRS negative. Although they haven’t been cleared of Myco yet, the farm is feeling hopeful about the future.

Today the crew still consists of Wendy, Sawyer, Scott, Karen and Andrea, but also Thomas Cates, Austin Herrmann, Zachary Swarthout and Shane Travaille. 

Sow 36 Team

While the farm is happy they are PRRS negative, and really proud of their strong, now somewhat tenured crew, they’ve also had other things to celebrate.

Earlier this year, the farm was recognized as most improved for quarter one. Which, according to Dan Dean, is a true accomplishment considering how much they went through.

“There’s never been a lack of grit and perseverance at this farm,” he said. “So once they finally saw some health improvements, we knew strong production numbers were soon to follow.”

Sleepy Hollow Team Member

Currently, the farm is seeing 13.7 born alive and 11.7 wean average, a huge accomplishment considering the health setbacks they've faced.

And although we’re celebrating their previous accomplishments, the farm is now focused on the future.

“You’ve got to learn to celebrate the good, even if it’s the smallest of victories,” said Scott. “This crew has worked their tails off and earned everything they’ve got. The journey is what makes you who you are and that’s no exception here. We struggled a lot, but it’s gotten us to where we are today. A really great, strong crew that won’t stop until we’re in the first place spot.”

Sleepy Hollow Team MemberSleepy Hollow Team Member