Fifty-year-old Bob Dykhuis is taking a conservative approach to protecting his family's hog operation for future generations.

He believes it's necessary to be both a low-cost and high-value producer. With values fluctuating widely, he has worked diligently on reducing costs, while also striving to improve marketing efforts and product quality through enrollment in the National Pork Board's Pork Quality Assurance-Plus program.

As described in the main article, Dykhuis has reduced the sow herd by 15%. “You need to control costs, and we have done that by having good facilities with good feeders and a network of disciplined contract growers,” he adds.

But there are plenty other areas this savvy producer is working to improve:

  • Feed grind at toll mills is checked weekly. “It's easy to go from 650 microns to 1,200 microns in a week. If you are not getting the grind of the corn fine enough, then you can't get good feed conversion,” he asserts. A roller mill works best. Dykhuis' target is 550-650 microns.

  • Feed formulations are checked weekly to provide the best energy in the ration (see separate story, page 33).

  • Feeder adjustments are checked weekly.

  • Feed quality is checked monthly to monitor for mycotoxins and other toxins that may result from feeding high levels of distiller's dried grains with solubles (20-25% of sow gestation feed).

  • Pictures in barns help illustrate properly adjusted feeders for staff to follow.

  • Market weights have been lowered from 285-295 lb. down to 280 lb., but are constantly evaluated based on market direction and feed costs. Heavier market weight hogs are destined to Tyson's plant at Logansport, IN. Lighter hogs are sold to Cargill in Beardstown, IL.

  • All capital outlays and building projects are on hold except critical improvements that could affect production.

“There is a lot of extra cost that gets absorbed into the system, and we are trying not to do anything extra,” he says.

As the sow herd is reduced, staff of 140 employees has been cut through attrition. Wage freezes have been imposed except for those who have had a change in responsibility. Employees now pay part of health care premiums.