“There's nothing we love more than a challenge”

posted on Thursday, April 13, 2017

“There’s nothing we love more than a challenge,” said Rhonda Root, Sow 30 Farm Manager. Described as a hard-working, accountable, detailed and very, very competitive, Rhonda and her team make a big impact on our billion plus journey.

With nearly 700 farms in the state of Iowa, it’s easy for “Popcorn” Sow 30 to stand out with its unique zip code. Nestled in the corner of northeast Nebraska, it is the only farm in the Iowa Select Farms system located in a different state.

“We’re definitely on our own out here,” chuckled Rhonda. “But that doesn’t mean we’re any different than the other farms. We work hard, we love these animals and we treat each other like a family. At the end of the day, it all comes down to producing as many healthy pigs as possible.”

In addition to Rhonda, who has been managing Sow 30 since coming to Iowa Select Farms in 2011, the farm crew consists of Farrowing Department Head LeAnn Murberger, Farrowing Technicians, Ernesto Lopez, Tim Kopejtka, Juliana Liseo, Josh and Jennifer Farewell, Breeding Department Head Jeff Ritenour and Breed Lead, Chuck Davidson.

Together, this group of individuals cares for 2,400 sows on a daily basis and is set to wean nearly 72,000 pigs in 2017. Being located in Nebraska poses unique hurdles and as a result, the farm has taken the reigns on additional responsibilities like maintenance, snow removal, lawn care and landscaping, HR paperwork, interviews, orientation and transportation schedules for their weaned pigs, gilts and culls— the list goes on!

“The crew at Sow 30 has a great work ethic and is very detail-oriented,” said Senior Sow Supervisor, Don Hunt. “Rhonda is a results-driven individual and sets high expectations for her employees. Even with the additional responsibilities given to them that most farms don’t have to worry about, they never stop until the work is done. With the distance between us, it’s very reassuring knowing that everything is being taken care of.””

And as if their hands weren’t full enough, Sow 30 received their quarterly biosecurity assessment and annual production well-being (PWB) assessment last Friday. These unannounced assessments are conducted by members of the PWB team and ensure that farms are compliant with company standard operating procedures.

“We know that these assessments can be overwhelming for farm managers since they’re unannounced, but Rhonda and her team did a great job,” said Jeff DeWeese, a PWB specialist with Iowa Select Farms. “I left the farm feeling confident that everyone is well-trained, knows the correct SOPs and more importantly, knows the reasons behind them.”

Sow 30 passed both the biosecurity and production well-being assessment and in almost all areas were at or above company targets—a tremendous accomplishment!

“This group is nothing short of resilient,” said Jessica Rosener, a second PWB specialist with Iowa Select Farms who joined Jeff on Friday’s assessment. “It’s encouraging to see animal care this thorough. From the farrowing rooms to the breeding barns, it’s obvious that every single animal is well cared for on a daily basis. It’s not often you see sow cards with personalized treats and names on them and I think that speaks highly to how much they care for these animals.”

That’s right, another thing that sets Sow 30 apart is that they name almost every single one of their pigs. From “Poptart” to “Big Mama”, every name has a special story or meaning behind it. In fact, the crew keeps a whiteboard in the office with all of the names on it as they’re created. “If you treat them well, they’ll do well. Sometimes it’s just that simple,” said Chuck, as he was feeding the boars tootsie rolls. “It’s hard to explain how much we care about these animals, but we’re just doing the best that we know how. The fact that we do well production-wise is an added bonus.”

As if their love for their pigs wasn’t obvious, it was put to the test two years ago when the farm nearly burned down due to a fire. “I remember coming out to the farm to answer an alarm call and saw a glowing orange light from miles away,” recalled Rhonda. “I wasn’t sure what to expect, but my heart was in my stomach the whole way to the farm.”

Luckily, the fire was controlled and no animals or employees were injured; however, the office was completely destroyed and the farm operated without electricity for more than one week. “We were walking around the farm with flashlights on our heads and pulling 14-hour shifts to make sure the animals were comfortable, fed and had water at all times.” said LeAnn. “It was definitely tough and tiring, but there’s nothing we wouldn’t have done for these pigs.”

The hard work, attention to detail and excellent animal care is paying off at Sow 30. “Rhonda and her team are consistently in the top 10 on a weekly basis and currently in 5th place for the quarter,” said Don.

“This farm is a top performer with pre-wean mortality,” continued Don. “They consistently run at or below a 10% pre-wean. They put a tremendous emphasis on piglet care in the farrowing department and understand the importance of excellent care in the first 3-4 days of life. They do a lot split suckling, maintain a warm, comfortable environment in the farrowing rooms and take care of the tiniest of details, like heat lamp adjustments.”

“Sow 30 has a great track record of excellent production numbers and SelectPride performance,” said Dr. Katie Wedel, the farm’s staff veterinarian. “They ask a lot of great questions in an effort to continue improving. Everyone wants to see the farm excel and puts their best foot forward every day when they come to work.”

“I’ve never seen anyone care about animals as much as they do here,” said Jennifer, who recently joined the Sow 30 crew but has more than eight years of experience in the industry. “It’s rewarding to work with people who love their job and these animals so much. It’s definitely a very special place.” #billionplus