Not Your Typical Pigs Raising Hogs in a Non-Confinement Setting

Jim York’s pigs are not your typical hogs. They don’t live in confinement barns, the sows are naturally bred with boars rather than artificially inseminated, they’re primarily antibiotic-free, and they are all at least 50 percent Berkshire.
When York started raising pigs, back in 1988, near the Lake Wilson farm where he and his wife Rosie live, he raised what he called “commercial hogs.” He decided to take on pig farming as another way to generate income and give him more to do during the winter months.
“I’ve always liked doing the chores,” York said. “I like farrowing the pigs. It’s kind of a good feeling to come down and do chores in the morning and see if there’s a new litter born.”
About 12 years ago, he shifted his pig operation to raising purebred Berkshires.
The Berkshire breed originated in Berkshire, England. They were originally reddish or sandy colored, according to the American Berkshire Association, but the modern animal is mostly black with some white, specifically on the face. The primary characteristic that sets the breed apart, however, is the meat.
“The meat is not as lean, so it’s more juicy, more flavorful,” York said.
He said there’s a niche market for the meat that brings a better price for the Berkshires than producers get for typical commercial pigs.
About seven years ago, York switched to raising pigs that are 50 percent Berkshire and 50 percent a mix of Large White and Landrace. He said the cross breeding helps produce larger litters and faster growing pigs while maintaining the Berkshire meat characteristics.
York said he’s part of a group of Berkshire producers who sell their animals through a certified Berkshire pork program that allows cross-breeding as long as the animal remains at least 50 percent Berkshire. York said the producers must obtain their sows and boars from specific locations, have third-party audits of their facilities, and must verify that the pigs are raised in a humane way and are not given antibiotics after they reach 40 pounds.
If he must give a pig antibiotics after that, York said he has to mark the animal and can’t sell it through the program.
York’s operation is much smaller in size than the typical commercial pork operation. He has about 60 sows and five boars at their farm site, as well as a farrowing barn where there are currently about 140 piglets and a nursery barn that also has about 140 pigs. They also have about 450 pigs in three hoop barns not far from the Yorks’ home. The pigs are kept in the hoop barns until they’re ready to be sold.
For York, the open air barns were a matter of cost efficiency. He said the hoop barns cost about a quarter of what a confinement barn would have when he built them back in 2000. He said the open air barns do leave his hogs more susceptible to diseases, which can be brought in by birds, so vaccinations are important.
“The thing that I need to do in this program is give good vaccinations at the beginning to help the pig stave off some of these things that could happen, like PRRS (porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome) is a big one and some of the pneumonias and ileitis I give shots for,” he said. “No matter where you are in southwest Minnesota there are other barns around so there’s disease in the air.”
York said raising  pigs in open air barns is also more labor intensive because he puts new bedding in each week and it’s more difficult to sort the pigs when it’s time to sell them because his barns don’t have smaller pens within them like a confinement barn does.
“I definitely need three people to help sort,” he said.
York said his brother, Lee, and Lee’s sons, Brian and Terry, help him with the sorting, but he does the rest himself.
In addition to raising hogs, York grows corn, soybeans and oats on around 2,500 acres of mostly rented land with his brother and nephews. York said his family has been farming together since the early 1980s, and with their dad prior to that.

Fenlon working to leave her signature on local pork industry

Kelsey Steuber Fenlon is one of the many working hard to ensure Martin County remains the self-proclaimed Bacon Capital of the nation.
Fenlon and her husband, Justin, live in Fairmont with their son, Jedsyn. She works at the family farm, dubbed Signature Swine, which consists of 2,500 head of sows, 9,000 head of nursery pigs and around 1,500 acres of corn and soybeans.
Fenlon’s degree is in finance, but, after working for five years in personal finance with Northwestern Mutual and Ameriprise, she left to work on the family farm.
Growing up in the St. Cloud area, she said she didn’t care for farming, and she described herself as a “snotty and stubborn kid.” After graduating from college, she lived in the Minneapolis area, but moved to Fairmont in 2012 and began working for the family farm full time.
The farm expanded that same year into Signature Swine and a true-pen gestation barn was built for the sows. Fenlon said this helped provide what consumers demand when it comes to animal welfare. This barn holds 1,365 sows and covers the span of four weeks gestation all the way to full term. Each pen in the barn holds 18 sows, which are broken up by parity, size and due date.
This is the area in which Fenlon usually works, but she also works with the gilts and breeding stock. Her brother is the sow farm manager, so she works with him every day, and she usually sees her dad as well. Her sister, Ashley, also worked in the barn for quite a while, but recently took a job elsewhere.
Fenlon said she loves working with the animals and seeing what differences each day brings.
“I like the challenge that farming presents,” Fenlon said. “It’s hard work and incredibly frustrating at times, but when you get it right, it feels really good.”
While farming is an age-old occupation, Fenlon said there are many changes happening in the swine industry. Technology is making the work more precise, she said, and helps to head off problems before they occur. Fenlon said family members spend quite a bit of time reviewing data so they can find out more about their animals. This, in some cases, can help let them know about potential diseases or problems before the animals are even showing symptoms.
Family members also employ the use of mobile data entry. This allows them to use tablets while in the barn to enter data as they are gathered, such as the exact time a sow is being bred, and they are able to sync the data and run reports to get performance information right away. They are also able to use this to get detailed farrowing data, and it even gives them the ability to track feed usage.
They have a continuous feed system in farrowing that ensures lactating sows are offered as much feed as they want, and even temperature-control systems that control the heat in a room, as well as the mats, based on the age of the piglets in the room. They also use security cameras to keep track of things when they aren’t onsite.
“I feel like we are just touching the edges of what technology can do with farming,” Fenlon said. “With biosecurity being such an important factor, especially in pig-dense areas like Martin County, we will see more development in that department. There is also so much more automation that can be done now — feeding systems, temperature controls, lighting.”
When it comes to working in the agriculture field, Fenlon said she is proud of the job she and her family do.
“Working in agriculture can make someone very well rounded,” she said. “The skills you must learn, possess and develop are endless. At any given time, a farmer may be called upon to be a plumber, welder, electrician, accountant, agronomist, economist, machine technician, veterinarian, biologist, in addition to maintaining the high levels of standard animal care. In working with animals, you learn a lot about selflessness and responsibility. We work 365 days a year. It doesn’t matter if it’s a blizzard, or if you don’t feel good. If it’s Christmas Day, and a pipe freezes or an auger breaks, it has to be fixed. That might mean we are late for certain events, but our duty is to our animals.”

Safety first when using ATVs

All-terrain vehicles (ATVs) are a useful tool for all sorts of work on the farm.
At the Carlson farm west of Pipestone, Jared Carlson and his father, Randy Carlson, use ATVs to check on livestock in the pastures and fields, survey their crops and fence lines, spot-spray for weeds and more. The family grows corn, soybeans, alfalfa and wheat on about 1,500 acres, has two hog barns with around 5,000 hogs, and a cow-calf operation with 50 cows.
Jared Carlson said the family has used ATVs for as long as he can remember because they are a convenient and quick way to get around.
“It saves us a lot of time,” he said.
The Carlsons said their family has never experienced any accidents or injuries while using an ATV.
“You’ve just got to use common sense,” Randy said. “Don’t drive too fast and don’t turn too fast. That’s where you tip over with them.”
As is the case with any piece of equipment, ATVs can cause injuries or even death.
According to records from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), there have been 148 ATV accidents in the state to date in 2019 resulting in nine fatalities, 153 injuries and 16 instances of property damage. In each of the last two years there have been over 20 ATV-related fatalities by year’s end.
Jennifer Mueller, southwest regional training officer with the DNR, teaches the DNR’s volunteer trainers who provide ATV safety instruction throughout the state. She said ATVs are “handy tools” on the farm and, like Randy Carlson, she said safety is all about how the machines are used.
“If you ride it safely and slowly they can be safe, she said.”
 Mueller said the vast majority of ATV accidents happen on private property and one of the most common is a rollover, often caused by high speed.
“Speed always seems to be a factor,” Mueller said. “Or they hit a fixed object.”
Another common problem is that riders use ATVs that are too powerful for them. Mueller said ATVs come in a wide variety of sizes and that even her 4-year-old had one that fit him.
Even if the ATV is the right size, however, Mueller said it’s important that riders know how to use the machines appropriately and follow local regulations. She suggests checking with local city and county governments to learn about the local regulations. She said riders should also check the state’s off-highway vehicle (OHV) regulations. ATV regulations in Minnesota vary by age, where the machine is used and how big it is, and are available at
The basics include that anyone under 18 is required to wear an approved helmet while operating or riding an ATV on public land. While it isn’t required, Mueller recommends that all users wear a helmet and safety gear.
In addition, anyone born after July 1, 1987 must have a valid ATV safety certificate showing they’ve completed the DNR’s safety course to operate an ATV on public land. A certificate is not needed to operate an ATV on private land as long as the ATV is 50 inches wide or less, but Mueller said it’s still a good idea to take the training.
“We recommend that course for anyone who uses an ATV or OHV (off-highway vehicle),” she said.
For children ages 10-to-15, the safety training course includes an online portion at, which Mueller said is “quite extensive” and takes about eight hours, and a hands-on portion that can be completed in a single day. The hands-on portion includes sections on basic ATV operation, protecting the environment, common ATV parts and controls, Minnesota rules and laws, responsible ATV riding skills for trail riding, and skills practice on an ATV course. Those 16-and-older are not required to attend the hands-on class.
The DNR also offers a free ATV study guide course about basic safety for children ages 6-to-9. That study guide as well as links to sign up for the online and hands-on courses, as well as a list of upcoming hands-on course locations are available at
There are currently no ATV courses scheduled in southwest Minnesota, but Mueller said the DNR does offer them on a regular basis in Marshall, Worthington and Pipestone. A greater number of the courses are available in the spring.

CBD: A new product from an ancient crop
Product allowed by farm bill may improve farmer safety

A new retail product offering made possible by the 2018 farm bill may actually benefit farmers during the upcoming harvest season.
The 2018 farm bill paved the way for cannabidiol products to be legally sold in Minnesota and Jen and Jesse Hendrickson of Village Green Florist and Greenhouse in Lakefield have taken advantage of the change. Village Green is now a retail outlet for CBD products.
Cannabidiol products are derived from industrial hemp, one of the oldest crops on the planet. The products are free of tetrahydrocannabinol, or, THC, the chemical responsible for much of marijuana’s physical effects.
“There is no intoxication from using it or the products made from it,” Jesse Hendrickson said of the cannabidiol products Village Green sells. “People get no high from this product. It is not marijuana.”
The Hendricksons said a lot of CBD is imported from other parts of the world, but the products they are selling in Lakefield are grown in North Carolina.
“We chose cbdMD because the products they have are 100 percent U.S.A. grown,” Jesse Hendrickson said of the company with which they are partnering. “Cannabidiol has different delivery methods. The plant is refined similar to soybean oil, so what you get is pure cannabidiol oil.”
Consumers using the product typically put the oil under their tongues — but just a drop or two from a dropper.
When the Hendricksons started hearing about the benefits of cannabidiol a year ago, they further investigated it for themselves.
“Local farmers have planted the plant,” Jesse Hendrickson said. “I understand there are 300 to 400 acres of hemp planted within a few counties from here.”
So the Hendricksons looked for an answer to the question, “What can we do to be a part of this?”
And they determined for them the easiest answer was to put the end product in their store, offering it for sale along with all their other plants, plant-related products and flowers.
It was the health benefits associated with the product that really motivated the Hendricksons to go ahead and make it available to their customers.
“Anyone can benefit from CBD,” Jen Hendrickson said. “It is not a one-symptom reliever either. It helps people sleep better, relieves anxiety, headaches, helps the digestive system, inflammation, arthritis and muscle pain and it has been shown to help diminish brain damage. Athletes commonly use it as a dietary supplement.”
“It is recommended for adults only and is not sold to children,” Jesse Hendrickson said. “It is up to parents to determine if their children will benefit from using CBD.”
Once the CBD oil is placed under the tongue, the body quickly absorbs it into the circulatory system and it then helps relieve whatever symptoms a person may be experiencing, Jen Hendrickson said.
“Farmers and others involved in physical labor, such as construction or factory workers, find it helps them sleep better at night,” Jesse Hendrickson said. “Others take it in the morning to help relieve their aching muscles as they start their day, while others take it to help reduce their stress during the day.”
“In stressful times, like the upcoming harvest season, farmers can use CBD to calm them down in those anxious times,” Jen Hendrickson added. “It not only helps them sleep better, settling their brain down better at night, but it also helps with all the aches and pains of riding in a truck, tractor or combine for long periods of time.”
The Hendricksons have limited their stock to the small 30-milliliter bottles that come with droppers as that is the typical-size CBD bottle sold. But they also offer it in a variety of flavors, such as orange, mint, berry and the original unflavored variety, which has a taste somewhat similar to soybean oil, Jesse Hendrickson said.
Beyond that, the Hendricksons at Village Green have a stock of CBD products in other forms, from cbdMD in lotion form, which is simply rubbed on the body; a topical roller in liquid form called CBD Freeze, which is especially good for sore back muscles and provides a cooling feel to the body; CBD gummies, similar to the gummy vitamins that come in a bottle and in a variety of flavors; and straight capsule form people just take with a glass of water like a person might take a regular vitamin.
“We have been using CBD oil ourselves under our tongues and have both slept well,” Jesse Hendrickson said. “I have felt like I have slept two nights in a row I feel so rested at times. We also sell CBD bath bombs in a variety of fragrances.”
And not forgetting the family pet, the Hendricksons have CBD pet treats.
“They relax a pet too,” Jen Hendrickson said. “But our customers for CBD are really anyone with chronic pain, stress or anxiety issues, are suffering from lack of sleep or have digestive issues.”