“We love family farms, but do not care for large commercial (or factory farms).” This seems to be a common theme among many when discussing agriculture today, but what exactly is the differentiating factor between large and small, family and factory, appropriate or overkill?
For a variety of reasons, the landscape of agriculture has evolved tremendously over the past several decades. One relatively noticeable way agriculture seems to have changed is within the structure of the pork industry. For some farmers, modern barns offer tools to provide excellent care to many more pigs at once than previous methods would have allowed, spurring growth; growth that allows one farm to produce more pigs than they are able to grow on their own – that’s where “contract growers” come into the picture. Growers consist of family farms that specialize on feeding pigs for another farm. In many cases, these arrangements have allowed farmers to remain involved in agriculture when they otherwise may have had to make a switch.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Ohio farmers Randy and Kyle Brown to talk about their farm and how it has evolved over the course of time. It was time very well spent, and I’d like to share it with you.
Just 40 minutes north of Columbus, in beautiful rural Wyandot County, the Brown Family has been farming for at least six generations.
Randy Brown began working on the farm in high school and worked several off the farm jobs through college. In 1979, he came back to the farm to join his father, Dave, and brother, Tom. Randy drew to the pigs, while his brother and father handled crops and cattle.
When asked about the history of the farm, Randy was quick to run to the basement to retrieve a book outlining the farm since it’s beginning in the late 1800’s. While Randy went after the historical summary of the Brown Farm, Kyle, his son, described his personal involvement on the farm.
Growing up, Kyle started working on the farm in junior high and worked through high school; summers, off days and weekends. He helped care for the sows and filled in wherever there was work to be done.
“I got all the odds and ends,“ Kyle said, laughing. “All the good stuff.”
Kyle studied animal science in college, but was not sure he wanted to come back to the farm or even remain in production agriculture. Kyle worked off the farm for about 10 months after college before coming back permanently in March of 2005. He worked in the family’s sow barn and grew to oversee the breeding and farrowing operations. Kyle later helped with the family’s transition to electronic record-keeping. In 2012, Kyle’s uncle began to prepare to retire and Kyle took on greater responsibility with the grain side of the farm. Kyle now oversees all aspects of the crop operations, with help from Randy.
“With my brother, Tom, retiring in 2013, we noticed we were starting to get spread way too thin. Between pigs, crops, cattle, equipment maintenance and everything else the farm demands, we had a lot going on,” said Randy. “We’d always been busy, but now we were running constantly just to keep up. We knew we needed to do something to ease some of the pressure and make things a little more manageable.”
Having been witness to many changes on the farm over several decades, including farrowing sows outdoors, straw bedded pens, the building of their first farrowing house and then the construction of their then-modern sow barn, Randy was willing to explore options for making things work around the farm. The Browns began doing some research on opportunities to grow pigs on contract for a larger family farm about 15 miles from their home place and after some thought, decided it could be good for all involved.
“I like being independent. I never in a million years wanted to be a grower for someone else, until I started to look at the opportunities it created for us,” Randy said. “The Hord Family shares so many of our key values and are truly a top-notch group of people in agriculture. Some want to get bigger, we just wanted to stay involved with pigs and crops and make it more manageable.”
Now, the Browns grow pigs for Hord Family Farms, operating a nursery barn, a finisher, and leasing their sow facilities for gilt development, breeding and farrowing.
“Making the decision to transition from farrowing sows (caring for mother pigs and their piglets) to growing pigs for another farm has done great things for us and our farm,” said Kyle. “We’re able to continue working with pigs, which we really do enjoy. We treat them like our own. But, we’re also able to spend more time honing our skills on the crop side, too. It’s a nice mix.”
“I’m 62 and want to be able to take some time for myself and my family,” said Randy. “Kyle gets to help his daughter get ready for school, and we’re all spending more time together. This has been a great fit for us.”