Technologies, genetics and management practices in pork production may have evolved quickly over nearly three decades, but independent producers who are shareholders in the Pipestone System have been able to maintain their independent stake in the swine industry while taking advantage of a shared investment in capital, research and expertise. “When Dr. Spronk joined the practice in the 1980s, there were very few, if any, producers in the area with 300 sows or more. There were lots of pigs raised outside and the bulk of farmers raised their own pigs, from farrow to finish,” said Dr. G.F. Kennedy, Veterinarian. “We were approached by an area farmer who was part of a gilt multiplier program and asked if we could help put together something similar in the area. That led to building Hiawatha, our first barn, which was owned by farmer-shareholders from the Fairmont and Pipestone, Minnesota, areas.”
The initial goal of the Pipestone System was to produce gilts to improve genetics of pigs in independent producers’ herds, but the focus evolved as Pipestone team and shareholders recognized the greater challenge for many farmers was the farrowing aspect of their operations, said Dr. Barry Kerkaert, Vice President of Pipestone. “For independent producers, farrowing was the most labor and capital intensive part of raising pigs and it took a significant amount of production expertise to do it well,” he said. “By consolidating multiple small farmers’ farrowing operations into one larger barn, we hoped to provide a competitive and economic advantage to the producers and allow them to improve their lifestyle.
The Nokomis barn, built in 1994, was the first Pipestone barn to farrow pigs and deliver isowean pigs to shareholder owners.
“We took the responsibility of managing sows and producing healthy piglets, along with the employees and facilities of the sow barn,” said Dr. Kennedy. “In turn, shareholders received a consistent supply of pigs that would allow them to stay competitive.” From the first barn with eight shareholders, the system has grown to more than 250,000 sows owned by more than 450 independent producer shareholders.
“There was a time when we weren’t sure if we could extend the model outside the county, much less across several states and internationally,” he said. “However, over the years, the farmer-owner model has proven itself many times. By taking over the most technical part of raising pigs, it gives independent producers the opportunity to compete and grow.”
Pipestone System’s mission of “Helping Farmers Today Create the Farms of Tomorrow” comes to life when shareholders are able to use their investment to build the operation that fits their farm family’s interests and lifestyle.
Whether it is helping independent producers capture the value of new technologies or providing an avenue for the next generation to join the family farm, Pipestone shareholders have the flexibility to make their investment fit their operation.
“In most cases, an independent producer doesn’t have the capital, expertise or time to build and manage an entire $15 million sow farm on his own,” said Dr. Kerkaert. “A 5 percent stake in a Pipestone System barn is a more manageable capital investment, and it also gives him the ability to participate in the advantages that come with the $15 million system.”
Shareholders also benefit from ongoing research. With five research barns and another planned for spring 2018, Pipestone is able to generate new knowledge to maintain producers’ competitive edge, said Dr. Kerkaert.
He noted that in 2017, Pipestone completed 23 research trials led by research Director Dr. Scott Dee. Trials focus on a range of issues from genetics, animal health products, management and production practices, and biosecurity.
As the Pipestone System grew, the team recognized other areas of expertise that could be helpful to independent producers with the Pipestone Grow Finish programs.
“We’ve continued to evolve providing shareholders who need or want expertise with nutritional services, production management services, recordkeeping and information services as well as veterinary services,” said Dr. Kerkaert. “These are all offerings that producers have the option to utilize, so they can focus on continuing to be the most competitive pig producers they can.”
“Independent producers are still the number one contributor of pork to our country. To maintain that leadership position, all they need is help with technical expertise and cooperation among themselves in certain key areas,” said Dr. Kerkaert. “It is extraordinarily rewarding and humbling to have the opportunity to participate in these great people’s businesses and lives.”