Contributed by: Kyla Habrock
Youth Education Director, Nebraska Pork Producers Association
Teachers and counselors realized the complexities and challenges that exist for today’s pig farmers as they participated in the Nebraska Food Project. Thomas Livestock Company enthusiastically hosted the experiential learning opportunity. Thomas Livestock Company is a 3rd generation family farm that over the last 30 years has transitioned from a traditional grain and livestock farm to focusing exclusively on contract swine production. Today, the farm spans 10 counties, consists of 16,000 sows (adult female pigs who give birth to piglets) farrow to finish (birth to full-grown market weight) with an approximate annual production of 560,000 pigs.
Tim Friedel and Tim Chancellor lead the educational experience that helped teachers and counselors understand, by seeing first-hand, how excellent animal care yields high quality pork after completing a shower in/shower out tour of Thomas Livestock Company’s Georgetown Sow Farm or the Ash Creek Wean to Finish Farm. Larry Coleman, DVM, lead the tour through the feed mill, plus engaged teachers and counselors in an analytical lesson that challenged their perceptions on feeding pigs and feeding people.
Following the tours, Coleman facilitated conversations that encompass many sectors of the pork industry including:
Chef Afif Espindola, Executive Chef, Bonfire Grill Restaurant and Pub shared culinary expertise and encouraged teachers to introduce students to pork. Chef Afif says, “Understanding how the carcass is made up should help students better understand how and why different cooking methods are used.”
Jim Jones, Contract Grower, Farmer/Rancher, Past State Senator shared his unique story about bringing younger people back to the farm. Jones and his family has experienced success adding earning potential by contract growing pigs with Thomas Livestock Company.
Rick Wise, CEO, Heartland Builders discussed the importance of the swine industry in the building and construction trades. Wise explained 85% of their business is related to the pork industry. He challenged teachers and counselors to encourage students to pursue skills/trade careers like plumbing and electrical.
John Blanscet and Ron Steuk, Hog Procurement, Farmland Foods/Smithfield shared interesting information specifically about the Crete plant. In one, eight hour shift, employees process 10,400 pigs. Twelve percent of the pigs that are processed in Crete come from Thomas Livestock Company everyday.
RJ Thomas, Owner, Thomas Livestock Company, explained their understanding of pigs has changed the most. But the fact he wanted to underscore is, “We raise animals to make food for people, and we do it humanely.”
Tim Friedel, General Manager, Thomas Livestock Company, further emphasized pig care by discussing the specialized 24 hours a day, seven days a week care provided to sows. He explained, “We are the most extreme activists for animals – it’s important to treat the pigs the best we possibly can, it’s about caring for that pig.”
Jose Hernandez, Thomas Livestock Company, shared his story as an immigrant to the United States, living in Broken Bow, working for Thomas Livestock Company, and raising a family. Jose encouraged teachers to create a culture in their classroom for students that provides support and belief in their abilities. He ended by confessing how important relationships are to him, “Dana (Jose’s boss) is my friend – I owe him a lot. He treats me like family.”
Teachers and counselors who participated in the 2014 Nebraska Food Project have a better understanding of how excellent animal care yields high quality pork. More so, teachers and counselors who participated in the 2014 Nebraska Food Project have a better understanding about how attitude, compassion, pride, and connecting with people make all of the difference.
Tim Chancellor, Thomas Livestock Company, is explaining the new Nedap electronic sow feeding system used in the Georgetown Sow Farm.
Teachers see various ingredients that are incorporated into a pig’s diet while touring the feed mill. Larry Coleman, DVM, explains the importance of balanced rations to ensure each pig receives the proper nutrition at each growth stage.