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For those of us that wear multiple hats, which are most of us, introducing yourself at a meeting can be a bit of an exercise. Recently I attended an agribusiness meeting and all the attendees introduced themselves. As we went around the room, I debated list myself as a farmer first, or as an employee of Hubbard Feeds? As the microphone finally made it to me, I went with farmer first, then Hubbard employee, although I ended up stumbling through my introduction and wanting to have a “do-over.”

The whole experience did get me to think about how we view ourselves, especially those of us that have jobs off the farm. I know it depends on the situation, but really how do you view yourself? Who are you?

At the end of the day (and the beginning), I am a farmer. It’s the lifestyle I grew up with and it’s the way I live now. Being a farmer influences my decision making and my values. I have a soft spot in my heart for animals and want to give them the best care possible. I also know that these animals are a source of income for us and a source of food for others. As a farmer I tend to be frugal, practical and sometimes a little skeptical although some might call it guarded. As farmers, we’re in tune with the rhythm of life, the seasons and how nature controls so much of what we do. We deal with life and death and both can affect us dramatically.

Farming may not be glamorous and high profile but it is important as we’ve seen by the increasing interest in knowing where your food comes. Farmers come in all shapes and styles and use a variety of methods to produce food. While there may be differences, there are also similarities. Farmers want to grow crops, raise animals and sell their products so that others can eat. Farmers want to farm. Perhaps more than any other occupation, it gets in your blood and becomes not just your job, but your lifestyle. Yep, I am a farmer.

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With four days left until my 1/2 marathon race, I thought I would be more ready mentally.  But my thoughts have been distracted by pig barns and boar collecting and finding a job  and preparing to host our neighborhood pignic.  The fact that my knee is only half ready for the race hasn’t really bothered me with everything else that’s going on.

I’m sure Brandon is building hog barns in his sleep at this point.  We have gilts arriving in three weeks and one of the buildings needs to be ready to receive them.  Gilts are the female pigs before they have had a litter.  Once they have had a litter of piglets, they are then called sows.

Boar collecting has been “interesting” in a temporary facility.  In my old boarstud, I felt completely safe with narrow alleys and secure gating.  In the sow unit it seems as if the alleys are too narrow so the boars don’t want to walk there or they are too wide where the boars can turn around.  I don’t enjoy coming head to head with a boar.  I would rather stay at his tail.  I know it’s all part of growing pains, but it is just that, a pain.

I’m also at a point where I need to decide whether pigs are my job choice.  There’s definitely plenty to do, if that’s what I choose, but I’m not by nature an animal person.  So I’ve been looking into what my employment options are.  I have to say, after being a stay-at-home mom for 15 years, finding a job isn’t as easy as one may think.

Finally, we host a “pignic” every June to show appreciation to our neighbors and the people we do business with for helping us achieve our business goals.  It’s a fun social event, but of course there are details that need to be taken care of ahead of time.  Every year in the past, Brandon has roasted a hog and we have served pork sandwiches.  I told Brandon the other day that there is no way he is going to have time to roast a hog this year.  I thought he may refute the statement, but he agreed.  So, yesterday I ordered pulled pork from our local catering guy, Russ.  It felt so weird to be ordering pork since we always make our own, but I guess we need to know our limits, and I think we’ve already crossed those.  So the pignic plans are underway.

And then there’s the half marathon.  This is the most relaxing part of my life right now.  I love to run, even with a bad knee.  I love the race atmosphere, with energy that is palpable.  I love that I am pulling two huge pieces of my life, pigs and running, into one place.  Go pork power!

Exactly where does your food come from?  Brandon and I had the opportunity to answer that exact question yesterday during an “Oink Outing”.  The MN Pork Producers connected us with 4 moms from the Cities who answer the daunting question of “What’s for supper?” every day.  We also had the opportunity to visit with Chef Paul Lynch of Fire Lake Grill House.  Chef Paul shared with the moms and us how easy it is to prepare pork, did a cooking demonstration for us, and finally served us a delicious meal.

Following our meal at Chef Paul’s restaurant we drove to our farm for a tour.  The four women who were unfamiliar with farming had excellent questions ranging from, “What do the pigs eat?” to “What have the high corn and soybean prices done to our farm’s profitability?” and everything in between. 

Society has access to so much information that it is sometimes hard to sort out fact from fiction.  That is why we really appreciate the opportunity to show people what exactly it is we do, and more importantly, why we do things the way we do them.  It is not only in our pigs’ best interest to be comfortable and healthy, but in our best interest to raise production animals in a comfortable and healthy way.

Your food doesn’t come from a grocery store or a restaurant.  Your food comes from a farm.  Happy Eating!

As I’ve been spending time training for the Duluth 1/2 marathon, Brandon has been working on plans for expanding our farm.  A lot has changed since the last time we expanded in 1997.

In 1997 Brandon was 25 years old with relatively little hog experience and not much of a track record in agriculture.  The steps it took to get a loan for a 1600 sow expansion were few and the biggest challenge was convincing Grandpa Schafer that expanding the sow herd was a wise idea.

Flash forward to 2011.  Today we are looking at doing an expansion that is half of what we were tackling in 1997, but the requirements from our lending company have been ten times what they were in 1997.  From balance sheets to building plans, from hog health status to manure management, the list of requirements seems to be never-ending to me.  Brandon is a patient man who thrives on planning and implementing those plans, so jumping through all of the hoops doesn’t seem to bother him.

I figured that Brandon’s production records would speak for themselves.  He has created a fine-tuned system  in our sow unit, with pig numbers any producer would be happy to have.  But times continue to change in agriculture and the challenge to run a profitable business continues to increase.  Lending company’s seem to have an inflated concern about the perceived risk in agriculture.  Regardless of whether this concern is legitimate, we have to follow the lending company’s rules in order to secure funding and expand our business.  This is where passion comes in.  It’s our love of farming that keeps us moving forward in the challenging industry of agriculture.

Our Christmas pigs have reached the right age and weight to wean them from the sows. On our farm, it works best if the pigs are about 21 days of age and weigh about 13 pounds although many of them will weigh 15-16 lbs.

The pigs will go to a nursery barn on our neighbor’s farm where they will be fed a diet that contains milk products, rolled oats and other complex proteins along with soybean meal and corn. Having these complex ingredients is important as the pigs’ transition away from sow’s milk. When they are about 25 lbs, they will be eating mostly soybean meal, dried distillers grains (DDGS), vitamins and minerals and corn.  

Having a good vaccination program and keeping a close eye on the pigs, especially the first week, helps keep the pigs healthy and reduce the need for antibiotics. The pigs grow quickly in the nursery and by the time they are ready to move to the finishing barn in about 7 weeks, they will be gaining over one pound per day.

Meanwhile, it’s time to get the farrowing barn ready for the next group of sows to farrow.

Throughout this blog you’ve had the chance to get to know us. Now I’d like to tell you a little bit about our farm. Dale’s grandfather Ed Stevermer started this farm in 1917. We are living in the house he built. It’s changed a bit over the last 93 years. The house has gotten bigger, while the number of people living in it has gotten to be fewer. That’s typical farm house progression.

We have a farrow to finish operation which means we have sows that give birth to little pigs on our farm. We raise those pigs until they are ready for market, which is about 5 ½ months of age and weighing about 270 lbs. We sell about 2500 pigs per year. Each pig will eat about 9 bushels of corn so our pigs require about 118 acres of corn for feed. An acre is about the size of a football field, so it takes 118 football fields of corn to produce the pork on our farm.  We grow corn to feed to our pigs and then sell the pigs to provide lean protein for others to eat. Meanwhile, the manure from those pigs is organic fertilizer for our corn and soybean ground. It’s a nice sustainable cycle.

We also grow soybeans, which provide a nice crop rotation for the corn. Dale will sell them to the processor, as a cash crop. The soybeans are crushed and the meal is separated from the oil and we’ll buy back the soybean meal to feed to our pigs.

You may be wondering how our farm got its name. Grandpa Ed was selling Chester White breeding stock and needed a name for the farm. He called it Trails End Farm because it was near the end of an old Indian trail.

Steve Meyer, from Paragon Economics made that statement at a pork industry meeting I recently attended. It’s a simple statement, yet very profound. We may call ourselves pork producers, pig farmers, growers, producers or even farm families, but in the end, we have one purpose, to produce food to feed people.

Every day Dale gets up and goes out to the barns to feed and take care of the pigs. There are sows to breed, young pigs that need to be checked and the occasional pig that may need extra care. There is feed to grind and animals to be fed. Some days there are gates to be fixed or other repairs that need to be done. The end goal is to send a pig to market that is healthy, efficient and a good source of lean protein for the consumer.

The pigs we raise could end up as a dry aged pork chop in a white table restaurant. The ham could be part of a school lunch meal, perhaps the best meal that some kid has for that day. Pork ribs could be part of a tailgate party before a big football game. The loin roast could be part of a hot delicious meal on a cold winter night.

The farmers I know are modest, perhaps too modest. They don’t want to call attention to what they do, so unfortunately some people don’t understand what it’s like to raise pigs today. It’s like many other jobs, rewarding, challenging, frustrating and gratifying. But to farmers, it’s more than a job, it’s a livelihood, a passion they have for raising livestock that one day feeds people.

Next time you see a farmer, any type of farmer, tell him or her thanks. They may be surprised, but they’ll appreciate your gratitude.

Today is the opening day of the MN State Fair. Brett is here with his rabbit, a Jr. doe named Leia.  Jenna Stevermer is also here with her chickens and Kendrah and Maddie Schafer have their cow/calf pairs here. Plus I met some other pork producers who have both pigs and sheep at the Fair. Does it seem ironic that some of my closest pork producer friends also have strong interests in other animals? I don’t think so since I believe it’s all part of our commitment to agriculture. Being pig farmers may be our primary job, but we have other interests.

It’s hard to accurately describe the activity and energy that occurs in the livestock buildings at the State Fair. From entry day to show day, it seems to border on chaos but when you look closer, there’s really a certain energy that drives everyone. Sometimes it’s excitment and sometimes it’ exhaustion but it’s a wonderful experience.

I believe it’s an experience that makes both us and our kids better. We learn to handle pressure, to be organized, to perform in front of people and to handle both achievements and disappointments. Our kids make friends that they will remember for years to come. Most importantly the memories they make will last a lifetime.

Grandmas weekend was a blast, and the race wasn’t too bad, either.

As I reflect on what transpired, the moments that stick out had to do with people. Things started for me Thursday afternoon. After arriving at the Radisson, I went out for a run to loosen up. At the street corner I met a skinny guy in running gear that was looking for a good route to run. I volunteered to help him, even after admitting that I hadn’t been down near Canal Park for many years.

I quickly sized this guy up as being much faster than myself, but we did fall into a common pace and conversation easily. This gentleman was from Ethiopa by way of New York, and had been invited to run the Garry Bjorklund Half-Marathon. He was a little cagy about his projected finishing time, but the end result is that he finished 3rd in the race.

After working at the Expo for a couple hours, and receiving very positive feedback from those sampling pork, I grabbed my race packet and wandered around. I was greeted by a guy seated behind a table “You must be Brett and Adam’s dad.” (We were wearing the same Pork Power shirts). This man was Dane Rauschenberg, who had run 52 marathons in 52 weeks during 2006. Quite an accomplishment, and also an inspiration to many runners.

On Friday the boys and I spent time talking to Vali Tomeschu, the coach of the Romanian women that won gold at the Beijing Olympics marathon. He had some coaching tips for the boys, and wanted to hear how they finished at the William A. Irvin 5K that night.

Friday afternoon we watched Beth run her Whipper Snapper race, along with Callie and Shayna (Joe and Teresa’s daughters). Their races were short and fast, and the girls looked strong running. It is a thrill to see them finish so well.

I stayed at the Expo Friday afternoon, and reached the people-meeting zenith for me. Dick Beardsley was signing his book, and I talked to him for about 15 minutes. Various topics were farming and running, UM-Waseca, where Lori also went to college, and our promotion of pork at Grandma’s. Later, I made it to the presentations, catching the tail end of Kara Goucher’s talk, then Dick’s talk. During the question and answer period for Kara, a lady 15 feet from me said that she had something to give Kara that has been around for 25 years. She was talking about a laurel wreath (given to winners of the Boston Marathon), and that she was Lisa Weidenbach, the last American woman to win at Boston. Kara politely declined, since she wanted to earn hers.

The 5K race went about as I expected, with 1500+ runners causing a traffic jam and a slow start. The 5 Stevermers, Brett, Adam, Lori, Joe and Jenna, foundtheir stride and ran good races. Once again, it was so exciting to see family members working hard and having success.

I will save a blow by blow review of Grandma’s for the next time. My bus ride to the start went quickly because the person seated next to me was a good listener and experienced marathoner. A resident of Boston, he had helped a friend re-qualify at the 2010 Boston, so had traveled to Duluth to qualify. He is a physical therapist, and gave a few pointers on the miniscus tear that I am dealing with. I enjoyed running past the Bacon Section and proudly pointed out my Pork Power shirt. I also met up with some runners from Rochester that I had met 3 weeks ago at the Med City half.

The most important people were the ones I spent the rest of Saturday with: my family and friends that were in Duluth. Thank you for your support, and thanks to the MN Pork Board for spurring me on to run my 7th marathon, a Boston qualifier.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” Aristotle

  My exercise routine this week was anything but routine due to my attending the World Pork Expo. For those of you not familiar with this event, it’s a combination of a trade show, educational seminars and grilling competition. Throw in the Junior National Show with about 600 exhibitors showing 1500 pigs and Des Moines Iowa June 9-11 was the place to be for anything to do with pigs.

 My week started off by leaving for Des Moines on Monday to set up the Hubbard Feeds booth. Tuesday we had a swine training meeting for our salespeople. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday was the tradeshow, which I worked most of the time. Working the tradeshow involves a lot of time standing, which is tiring. Our booth was really busy so visiting with people all day can also be tiring, although it’s rewarding.

 For me, it’s challenging to fit in some time to work out. We start early in the morning. Typically a group of us go out for dinner in the evening. Later in the evening it’s a great opportunity to visit with people from around the country to see how business is going for them. Not much opportunity to fit in a run.

 I was lucky to fit in a short run on the treadmill Thursday evening as the kids swam in the hotel pool. It felt good to stretch my muscles and get my heart rate going. What I’m really looking forward to is getting home and getting out on my bike. The weather forecast for the weekend is for rain off and on, so I really hope I get the chance to get out.

 The World Pork Expo is a great deal of work for me, but I also find it exciting. I enjoy meeting with people from all over the US and the world and from all types of farms, from small to large. I also enjoy seeing what’s new in the industry. Typically we’re highlighting something new in our booth, so I’m eager to see the crowd’s reaction. The workout I do get involves much standing and walking around the fairgrounds, and while I miss running and biking, I enjoy seeing and visiting with my friends in the pork industry.