Dared to diversify: Wagoners of Shelton add swine for The Maschhoffs for their children’s future
Originally posted By Lori Potter a Kearney Hub Staff Writer on March 22, 2018
SHELTON — As Simon Wagoner studied the numbers for his farm business northeast of Shelton soon after the 2016 fall harvest, he was concerned about being able to leave a legacy for his children if they want to be ag producers someday.
He farms 1,000 acres of corn, soybeans and alfalfa and works with his father-in-law, Larry Puttergill, who also has 1,000 crop acres. Wagoner also helps his dad, Dan, manage 140 Angus crossbred cow-calf pairs.
The biggest issue is Wagoner owns only 80 of the 1,000 acres he farms and has no guarantee that he can lease all the rest for the long term.
His solution was to build a wean-to-finish swine barn on approximately 5 acres of his property and work with The Maschhoffs, a family-owned business headquartered in Carlyle, Ill., that is one of the country’s largest pork producers.
“It probably started five years ago,” Wagoner said about his idea to add swine production to his farm. “But I didn’t want to get laughed at … because there aren’t a lot of pig barns in this part of the country.”
He said that after his 2016 harvest review, “I had a couple of beers, called my banker and said there’s got to be another way to make money and make the bottom line of the farm look better.”
Wagoner was scared about the possible response. But after convincing the banker that he was serious, the reply was, “I’ll start the paperwork in the morning.
Wagoner and his wife, Mandi, an elementary schoolteacher in Wood River, created their 4R4K (For Our Four Kids) LLC. The kids are Gracie, 13; Taylon 11; Kenna, 8; and Karson, 6.
Wagoner researched several pork-producing businesses before selecting The Maschhoffs. Soon after, he had an on-farm meeting with company representative Alan Stephens.
Wagoner’s contact now is John Csukker, the environmental service manager and business development manager with The Maschhoffs’ Great Plains Regional office in Columbus that oversees swine production in Nebraska and western Iowa.
Wagoner had told his banker and others that his interest in swine was to produce his own fertilizer. While having use of manure collected in a pit under the pig building is a barn-owner benefit, Csukker said there is more to The Maschhoffs’ selection criteria.
“We look for a true fit. We want somebody who wants to raise hogs, not just get the fertilizer and get paid (rent for the building),” Csukker said.
The review also considers family dynamics, including the potential for a second generation to be involved. “We want to see a succession plan for a long-term relationship,” Csukker said.
Wagoner’s interest in diversifying his business with his children’s future in mind and using the natural fertilizer are among the factors for a good fit.
“We look for facilities like Simon’s,” Csukker said, explaining that a good location is as far away as possible from other people, but still close enough to the feed mill and processors used by The Maschhoffs.
He said sites west of Kearney can’t meet those feed mill-processor proximity requirements.
The contract between Wagoner and The Maschhoffs was signed at the 2017 Buffalo County Fair in late July. “My hand was shaking a little bit,” Wagoner admitted. “I had been married 13 years, and here I was signing a 12-year contract.”
He owns the land and building, pays barn-related costs such as utilities and provides day-to-day care of the pigs.
“We supply the pigs and all the inputs for the pigs, including feed,” Csukker said. The feed — corn, soybean meal, protein, minerals and vitamins — comes from a mill at Utica.
Finished pigs are processed at a Smithfield plant in Crete and by Hormel in Fremont and sold under those companies’ labels, he said.
Csukker noted that 28 percent of U.S. pork is exported. Trade is vital not only for the volume sold, but because countries such as Mexico have demand for parts of the pig not highly valued in the United States, he said.
“You definitely are not out here by yourself,” Csukker said, explaining that farmer partners can consult with The Maschhoffs’ field adviser Jason Wilcox of Henderson and herd veterinarian Corrine Stoffel of Holdrege.
Wagoner said the company provided him a list of recommended building contractors, and he chose Central Confinement Services of Columbus. Ground was broken Sept. 18, and the open house for the 81-foot-wide by 225-foot-long wean-to-finish building was Dec. 19.
On Dec. 26, 5,600 3-week-old weaned pigs weighing 15-18 pounds each were delivered from The Maschhoffs’ sow farms near Albion and in the Arapahoe-Holbrook area.
When the pigs in Wagoner’s barn reached 50-55 pounds, half were taken to another finishing facility. The remaining pigs will reach a market weight of approximately 280 pounds by late June or early July.
The process will repeat twice in a year, yielding 5,600 finished pigs annually. In between, Wagoner will clean, power wash and disinfect the barn to prepare for a new batch of weaned pigs.
The building’s high-tech features include climate controls that constantly measure and adjust temperature and air movement and monitor water consumption. “Electronic eyes” in an automated feeding system notify Wagoner by phone of any problems.
He said his job is to check on the pigs.
Wagoner and anyone else entering the barn must shower in and shower out to ensure pig health. “We try to get every pig up in the pen every day,” he said. Animals that are lame, have coughs or don’t seem to feel well are separated for treatment.
Csukker said antibiotics are used to treat illness, not promote growth, and extra-long withdrawal periods are used to make sure that any medication used is out of a pig’s system before it leaves the barn. “That’s all inspected by the USDA inspector at the processor,” he added.
Pig waste in the 8-foot-deep pit below the barn floor is “the 4R4K fertilizer factory,” Wagoner said, adding that the system required approval by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality.
He expects to have enough natural fertilizer to apply to a couple hundred crop acres annually. Csukker said the slurry applicator Wagoner uses puts fertilizer 6-9 inches deep into the ground at the plant root level.
In addition to the estimated $30,000 to $35,000 value of that fertilizer, a barn owner gets a monthly rent check from The Maschhoffs. “It’s about $20,000 a year for a part-time job,” Csukker said.
Company officials would like to add 10-15 farm partners in Nebraska during the next two years, he said. Most of the current 30 are in eastern Nebraska.
Csukker said he can be reached at 402-910-1892 for more information.
Wagoner said if farmers have questions about his side of the working relationship, they may call him at 308-379-0170.