The 2019-2020 Pork Mentorship Program made stops in Lincoln, Overton and Fremont August 14 through 16 during its first tour of the year. The program is designed to introduce college students to careers in Nebraska’s pork industry. The program provides a variety of hands-on experiences that promote leadership and communication skills, and helps participants to build their capacity as leaders and professionals in Nebraska’s swine and agriculture industries.
Day 1: Eating Pork
By Mekenzie Beattie
I couldn’t think of a better way to start Day One of our Pork Mentorship tours than at Amber Pankonin’s place in Lincoln. Amber is a registered dietician who is passionate about food and the pork industry. We began our afternoon with her by cooking a meal in her kitchen. Amber does various cooking shows on TV to promote healthy eating and incorporating protein into our diets. She has a lot of unique technology in her kitchen she uses to film. We prepared mango pulled pork sandwiches, a bacon tomato salad, and an egg roll bowl.
Cooking a meal with her showed us how easy it is to provide a nutritious meal for multiple people and how meal preparation is vital to a satisfactory eating experience. This also was a fun time for us mentorship participants to bond and work as a team to prepare a meal. After our hard work of preparing our meal, we sat at the dinner table to converse and enjoy eating our creations. While we ate we had meaningful conversation and learned a lot from Amber. She explained to us what her day-to-day routine as a registered dietician looks like. She basically runs her own business and is in charge of her schedule. Another topic we dived into was how we as college kids can prepare healthy meals. She had a lot of good advice to offer. Amber and her husband are very entrepreneurial minded and have started multiple companies. Talking about that in regards to food and agriculture was a fun conversation to she and her husband are very knowledgeable about what they do and enjoy sharing their story and wisdom with students like us. We were very grateful that they invited us into their home and shared what this side of the pork industry looks like. This was a great experience where we as pork mentorship participants could take a lot home with us.
Day 2: Caring for Pigs
By Miranda Mueller
On Day Two of our pork mentorship trip we went to Thomas Livestock, a sow farm and nursery outside Overton.
At first, I was expecting to be touring another typical farm operation and was not prepared for the amazing experience that I would have that day.
To start off our tour, we talked a little bit about Thomas Livestock as a company. The company is a 22,000 head farrow-to-finish operation and even has its own feed mill where they source a lot of their grain form local farmers.
We then went to Thomas Livestock’s farrowing unit where the company farrows out 40 sows per day. What was truly amazing about this portion of the tour is that although they are a large swine operation, they truly care about the lives of the animals they are raising. The employees care deeply about every life on the farm, which makes their mortality rate lower than average. They have an employee making rounds in the farrowing unit 24 hours a day to make sure everything is running smoothly. They also do a great job of keeping back the high-quality sows that produce large litters to keep their numbers growing. In the sow unit they also have the latest and greatest technology when it comes to the sows that aren’t in the farrowing crates. They have mechanical feeders that read the ear tags of the sows to monitor their feeding habits and to ensure they don’t overeat. They also make sure that the sows are always comfortable and healthy, monitoring them throughout the day by constantly monitor the temperature and every single fan they have.
Next, we went to the Thomas Livestock nursery, which was my favorite part of the tour. Once the piglets are weaned, they are brought to the nursery where the weaker or sick piglets are places in the center of each room in the four warmest pens. In the sick pens employees, bottle-feed each piglet three times a day for a couple of days until they are healthy enough to go in
with the rest of the piglets. Since the employees care so much for each piglet, their nursery mortality rate is less than one percent.
Overall, Thomas Livestock was an amazing experience. Seeing a farm and its employees so dedicated to their mission is very refreshing. This is a not just another big farm. This is a farm that doesn’t care more about the income than it does about the lives and the comfort of its animals. Every company in the industry should have the ideals of this company. Thomas Livestock left a huge impact on me and on my view of the pig industry.
Day 3: Processing Pork
After our visit to Thomas Livestock to learn about their breeding, farrowing, finishing, and gilt development facilities, the Pork Mentorship group completed the pork production process by visiting WholeStone Farms in Fremont. WholeStone is a unique processing plant where they regularly operate harvesting, processing, and everything in between.
Before we began the tour of the plant, the company’s safe standard operating procedures were explained to us and we put on the frocks, hairnets, and hardhats to comply with their safety measures. Our tour at WholeStone Farms began on the “clean” side, where retail cuts of pork are packaged for sale to consumers, and ended on the “dirty” side, where the harvest process begins. As a meat science major, I was extremely enthused by the operations throughout the entire facility. I was most intrigued, however, by how mechanized the harvest procedure was on such a large scale. I had never gotten the chance to see an operation like that before.
I am so grateful that Wholestone Farms was willing to open their doors to us and show us through their facilities. This unique opportunity allows us, the Pork Mentorship group, to explore careers in fields that we may have not considered before.