Pipestone County Producer Involved in Many Facets of the Pork Industry
Ted Stout started raising pigs in 1993 as a way to diversify his business.
“Diversification in agriculture is important,” he said.
Stout and his wife, Joan, as well as one of their sons and his family, live on the family farm site west of Hatfield that his grandparents established in 1907. It was there that he grew up and learned to farm from his father, Robert.
“I pretty much followed my dad around every day if I could,” Stout said. “I never was in the house. I pretty much was with him all the time.”
Stout started farming with his father when he was a senior in high school. Today, he grows corn, soybeans and alfalfa on around 1,200 acres of land and raises around 4,400 pigs.
Stout is a contract grower for Spronk Brothers. He receives young pigs, and feeds and raises them until they’re ready to be sent to market. He said contracting was a way for him to get into the business with less start-up costs than he would have had on his own.
“When I first got into it I borrowed every dime to build the two pig barns,” he said. “I didn’t have any money. It was a 10-year payback. It worked well.”
Stout now has three barns — two 1,000-head capacity barns that he built in 1993 and 1994, and a 2,400-head capacity barn built in 2005. All his barns are located on the same half-section on which he lives.
He uses bio-security measures at his barns: people who have been around other pigs cannot enter; those wearing street shoes can’t walk beyond a certain point; and different boots are used in each barn to prevent the spread of any illnesses. He said there have been no added precautions taken at this point in response to the African swine fever, which has been spreading recently in Asia and Europe.
Stout’s foray into the pig business led him down a few other pork-related paths.
About 20 years ago he joined the Pipestone County Pork Producers Association, a group of producers who work together to promote pork, largely by grilling pork at events around the region. Stout said that’s how he became involved.
“Years ago I always did a lot of grilling on my own, so that’s kind of how it all started — with the cooking,” he said.
His primary involvement in the organization today remains the grilling aspect.
Adding pigs to his operation also led Stout to start a manure hauling operation.
“I bought my own manure equipment, so I did that myself,” Stout said. “Then pretty soon we ended up getting bigger in that and now we custom haul manure as well.”
Once he’s done harvesting his crops this fall, he’ll spend about five or six weeks hauling manure. Typically, he’s finished hauling manure by December, but he said the wet weather this fall has delayed the harvest a bit, which could delay the manure hauling. As of early October, Stout said he had around three weeks of harvesting to do.
Pork Producers up to the Challenge
Pork producers large and small are facing several challenges these days, from weather to waste management, trade to tariffs and foreign animal diseases to the farm bill.
Jay Moore, director of environmental services at Jackson-based New Fashion Pork, said weather affects everything in agriculture, from the harvest to spreading of manure. Moore said manure is the most natural way to return nutrients to cropland and NFP officials are developing new ways to apply it with a greater deal of precision, ensuring only the areas being planted in any given year are covered, which gives the soil around them a chance to regenerate and be more useful in the future.
Moore said farmers are among the finest environmental stewards around, though they don’t always do a great job of promoting that fact.
“Farmers are the true environmentalists,” Moore said, adding they want their land and families to be prosperous, so they work hard to do things the right way, and the best way.
Other issues of great concern in the industry are trades and tariffs. The pork industry is asking for some help with the farm bill right now, Moore said, and the ask involves quite a large amount of money, but it’s for something Moore said is absolutely crucial — vaccines.
Moore said industry leaders are constantly monitoring foreign animal diseases and are worried the current levels of vaccines at the ready are not near enough if there were to be an outbreak.
If there were a foot and mouth outbreak, it could well devastate the country, Moore said. And if that’s not enough to keep pork producers up at night, industry leaders are keeping an eye on a new threat — African swine fever.
Deb Murray, veterinarian at New Fashion Pork, said African swine fever is a legitimate concern for all pork producers. While it originated in Africa, there have been cases of it popping up in China, Russia, and different parts of Europe. The disease is 100 percent fatal to pigs, she said, and there is currently no vaccine available to treat it.
“In terms of diagnosis, this virus can look like several other pathogens that we have here today, so could possibly go unnoticed at first, which means more time to spread,” Murray said. “NFP, along with many other farmers and producers, has conducted training sessions for employees and producers to heighten awareness of what to look for and what would need further investigation if it were to be seen.”
Moore said many pathways exist through which the disease may travel. Industry officials have documented it traveling through feral pigs or wild boars to hogs on farms.
Another way is through travel. Domestic firms that outsource the cleaning of casings to China, for instance, are needing to take extra precautions to keep product returning to the United State clean and safe.
Murray said the virus is strong, and can last for years if frozen and up to 100 to 300 days in meat.
The introduction of a new foreign animal disease in a country can be devastating. A 1997 outbreak of foot and mouth disease, accompanied by one of classic swine fever, cost Taiwan around $379 million dollars. The first case of African swine fever was identified in Belgium just last month.
While the challenges facing pork producers may seem overwhelming at times, Moore said he has great confidence in those involved in the industry.
“The pork industry is very innovative,” he said. “There are many great minds pursuing excellence.”
Moody County Couple Passes Along a Love of Horses to Multiple Generations
Rick Melby developed an interest in horses when he was around 5 years old, watching the “The Lone Ranger,” “Roy Rogers,” “The Cisco Kid,” “Hopalong Cassidy” and other westerns. He experienced his first taste of riding during summer visits to his cousins near Pipestone.
Rick decided he wanted to buy horses shortly after he and his wife, Deb, bought their property just across the South Dakota state line in Moody County southwest of Pipestone in 1976.
“We’d just gotten married, had no money and he was a smoker,” Deb said. “I said, ‘Well, you can’t buy any horses until you quit smoking. If you quit for a year, we’ll have enough to buy one or two horses.’ He quit cold turkey. He wanted horses.”
Their first horses were a small Arabian and an American Saddlebred. Rick said the seller sold them cheap.
“I understood why,” he said.
They eventually returned the saddlebred because it was too hard to ride. After that they purchased their first “good horse,” as Rick put it, named Sky Bar Skip. Three generations of their family learned to ride on the Palomino.
“He’s buried out here,’ Rick said.
Rick and Deb now have five quarter horses and a miniature Shetland pony. They enjoy trail riding and camping with friends and are members of the Prairie Riders Saddle Club. Rick also participates in ranch rodeos and on a couple of occasions each year comes about as close as one can to living the life portrayed in those old westerns that fostered his appreciation for horses so many years ago.
“My biggest event of the whole year is in the month of June when we get to go branding,” he said. “It’s hard work, but it’s fun.”
During two weekends, he and some friends rope cows and calves to brand, vaccinate and castrate. They spend the evenings camping, sitting around a campfire and singing songs.
The Melbys’ passion for horses has been passed along to their children and grandchildren who own and ride horses and participate in barrel racing, the 4-H horse program and other events.
“We use ours for work and play,” said their daughter Melissa Rosendahl. “We have cattle so we use the horses to rotate pastures or go check on them or round them up. Then on the weekends we do barrel jackpots, we do play days and we do omaksees.”
‘Omaksee’ is a Native American term for games on horse back.
“They’re two days of nonstop speed events on horse,” Melissa said.
She and her daughter, Megan, recently returned from an omaksee in Nebraska where Megan, 12, took second place. Melissa didn’t score as well as she could have due to a mishap with her horse. The animal slipped going around a barrel and fell on her leg. The horse then returned to its feet and started running off with Melissa’s foot stuck in the stirrups. She was dragged for a few feet before her foot came loose.
When it was over, she was more worried about her horse than herself. Her horse was just fine, but the accident left Melissa with a sprained ankle and knee. She nonetheless planned to be back on her horse participating in a horse game show in Pipestone about a week later and an omaksee in Minnesota the week after that.
The Melbys and their family members each have their own way of articulating their love for horses. For Melissa, it’s the sense of accomplishment she feels from having a “nice clean run” at a competition. For Rick, it’s the idea of a human working in unison with an animal, both willing participants in a common goal. For Megan, it’s just plain fun. For Deb, it’s the connection to, and uniqueness of, each horse.
“Our horses are our family actually — our extended family,” Deb said. “They all have their own personalities just like we do.”
From a young age, Steve Benes knew he liked ponies.
Every summer when he would visit relatives, their neighbors would bring ponies over for him to ride, and those were always happy memories for him. He didn’t know what the future would hold for him, but he knew someday he wanted one of his own.
His wife, Debbie, grew up with horses, so when they got married, they bought a farm in the Jackson area and purchased some. That was in 1985.
About 10 years ago, Benes bought his first pony. He brought it home and put it in the barn, but the next day, when he walked past the stall, he noticed something was different. His pony had a baby. From that time on, he was hooked.
Currently, Benes has seven ponies, as well as several horses. It’s not something he does to make money.
“It’s sort of like therapy,” he said. “I sit out with them and play with them. I just really enjoy it.”
The most recent addition to the Benes pony family was born on June 23. “Spitfire,” who lives up to her name, was the smallest pony Benes had ever seen. She measured a total of 17 inches tall, and was full of life. She has a curly mane, and likes to be scratched and petted like a dog.
For Benes, who also has a construction business, and his wife, who works in Jackson, the ponies are more of a hobby. Benes even has one of the youngest ponies trained to shake hands and to give kisses.
While the ponies bring a lot of joy to the family, there have been a few hardships this year. Two of the females lost their babies, which is always hard to take, Benes said. The ponies become more like pets than livestock, he said, so those losses are painful.
Another issue this year is the lack of hay. With all of the flooding in the area, many of the fields were damaged, and crop production has fallen. Benes spoke of one field he cuts from which he normally pulls about 100 bales, but this year he only got 88. He said all total, he attempts to have between 800 and 1,000 bales for the year, but is down to about 300 due to the water.
Benes does his research and has learned much about the animals. Where he’s learned the most is through hands-on interaction with the ponies. They know his voice and run to the gate when they see him. One of them, he said, will run along the front of the fence when he’s out there, and whinny at him as if to say hello.