The Veldhuizen, Veldkamp and Baustian family pork production farms near Pipestone, MN, could easily be described as progressive and successful.

It was their progressive attitude that brought them to a decision to join a new pork production venture while protecting their independence.

The Veldhuizens and Baustians even continued to operate their existing hog operations, separate from their joining what has become known as the "Pipestone System." And, that was okay with the systems' visionaries.

The Baustian Operation Farrowing crates are stacked in a neat row by the side of Mike and Cyndy Baustian's former farrowing barn, near Jasper, MN. However, the barn is not empty. The facility has been converted to a nursery for 1,200 ten-lb. pigs, to be exact. And Mike and Cyndy don't spend their nights sitting beside a farrowing sow anymore either.

The Baustians new operation is a lot less labor intensive, they say, than their previous setup.

"All the pigs will be inside now, Cyndy says. "It will be easier on them and on us; there will be no more snow to scoop in the outside lots."The Baustians had been running a 200-sow, farrow-to-finish operation with outside sow housing and lots of straw bedding. They had already taken advantage of production technologies such as artificial insemination. They had been members of the Pipestone System's gilt multiplication unit, Calumet, for six years. This provided replacement gilts for their operation.

During the past three years, the Baustians have also been receiving 600 ten-lb. pigs every eight weeks as part of the Pipestone System. They remodeled a finishing barn into a nursery for the early weaned pigs. A new finishing barn was built using plans provided by the Pipestone Veterinary Clinic.

This summer they started remodeling their farrowing facilities to accommodate the 1,200 additional pigs they will be receiving from additional shares purchased. Another new finishing barn was also built on a separate site.

Mike and Cyndy considered the labor-saving aspect when they decided to expand via the Pipestone System instead of increasing the number of sows they farrowed.

"We were producing about the same number of pigs with our 200 sows as we had been getting with the Pipestone System," Mike says. "The labor it took to produce our own pigs was probably double to triple the labor it takes to raise the same amount of pigs through the Pipestone System."

Cyndy adds the cost of updating and improving the sow side of their operation was also a factor. "And down the road, I think we would have regretted spending that money. That really isn't the area we want to progress with. We really enjoy concentrating more on the Isowean through finish phases of production."

The Baustians say they have learned a lot by working with the other producer members of the Pipestone System, and through their Pipestone Veterinary Clinic consulting veterinarian, Barry Kerkaert.

The clinic helped Mike and Cyndy devise a feeding program involving both split-sex and phase feeding.

They say leadership is one of the Pipestone System's strengths. "The veterinarians are very aggressive and they like to see the family farms around the country thrive and survive," Cyndy says. "They don't just get a call to come out and fix something when there is a crisis. They are involved in helping us tweak areas where we can make a difference to our bottom line."

Mike says some of the efficiencies of using the Pipestone System versus their own operation are hard to put a figure on. He cites better herd health, by operating the finishers on an all-in, all-out (AIA0) basis, as one example. The management that goes into producing the large number of weaned pigs is another area he says is top-notch.

It would have been more of a struggle to expand their existing farrowing operation to produce that numbers of pigs, Mike says.

"We didn't want to put all our eggs in one basket by getting rid of all of our own sows right away," Cyndy remembers. "We wanted to try the system for a while and see how it worked. So we kept up the farrowing, because the sows were always our bread and butter. But seeing the two types of systems, side by side, it's a no-brainer deciding what to do."

"We feel like we're part of a great group and organization," Mike says. "The Pipestone system is made up of all family farmers linked together by common genetics and common management. Now I think we're set to take on the future. I think we can adapt to whatever is thrown at us."

The Veldkamp Family

When a potential new member of the Pipestone System recently asked Jim and JoAnn Veldkamp, Jasper, MN, to name the disadvantages of belonging to the Pipestone System, Jim says they couldn't think of one thing to put on the list.

The Veldkamps were finishing 5,000 head of purchased feeder pigs/year before they joined the system in 1993. They had a good source of healthy pigs, but wanted to reduce labor.

After considerable investigation, they bought a share in a Pipestone System farrowing facility producing Isowean pigs. Soon they were receiving 600 pigs every eight weeks.

Jim remodeled a former grower building into a nursery. A new finishing building was built on a separate site.

JoAnn says the biggest concern they had at first was feeding and caring for the 10-lb. pigs.

"You can't spend too much time in the nursery in those first few days after the pigs arrive," JoAnn says. Four or five times a day she sprinkles pellets on the feed pans, the first few days after their arrival. She also makes sure the pigs are drinking water.

The Veldkamps paid close attention to the details and sought out the services of consulting veterinarians and nutritionists that were available to them through the Pipestone System.

"We fine-tune areas based on our records and the suggestions of the veterinarians," Jim says. One example is the feed area. "We were grinding feed with a portable, grinder-mixer. As soon as we got our first records back, we realized we needed to put in a roller mill, and changed our micron size as a result."

The Veldkamps implemented phase feeding and split-sex feeding, too. They feed four nursery rations and six finishing rations.

"If you see room for improvement on a graph or chart that is provided with this record system, you scramble to get the situation corrected and it makes a difference to your bottom line," JoAnn says.

The Veldkamps say if they hadn't joined the Pipestone System, they probably would have gotten out of the hog business altogether.

"Things are changing so fast in this industry, you have to figure out a system to keep up with all of the changes," Jim says. "There's a comfort level that comes along with being part of a group that offers a total package."

The number of pigs the Veldkamps receive from the Pipestone System will be doubling soon. They just purchased their second share in a sow unit, put up another finishing building and are finishing construction of a new nursery.

"I tell people you have to remember, this is still agriculture, so yes, there are always risks," Jim says. "It takes some money to invest in this system, but you're still open to all the rewards too. You have total ownership. We own the sows, we own part of the multiplier farm. We own the buildings and the facilities here at home. The potential for return is greater, and it is ours to gain."

The Veldhuizen Family

Ask Chris and Clare Veldhuizen about their future as family-oriented, independent pork producers. Then hang onto your chair. They've got a story to tell and they get very excited when they tell it.

The Veldhuizens are preparing to ease out of the indoor-outdoor facilities that have served their 160-sow, farrow-to-finish operation faithfully. Efficient new nurseries and finishers, and three-site production are replacing their traditional system near Edgerton, MN.

Chris and Clare expanded in the early 1990s by joining the Pipestone System, which has gotten them extremely excited and optimistic about the future.

As part of the Pipestone System, Chris and Clare built two, state-of-the-art nurseries and five confinement finishing buildings. They receive 1,200, ten-pound pigs every eight weeks, and are in the process of doubling to 2,400 pigs.

The Veldhuizens remember at one of the first meetings, before the Pipestone System was actually formed, the producers went around the table and stated their goals for their farming enterprise. They said their first goal was to make a profitable living.

"It's more than just an existence," explains Clare. "We're talking about a family farm that makes its sole income off of farming and also has a 10% plus return on their investments."

Another big goal was to be able to pass on a good-quality operation to the next generation. "We didn't want to be the last-generation farmers," Clare says. "That really bothers us as we go up and down the road in so many places. You see so many farms that aren't progressing. There is nothing there to pass on to the next generation. It's a dead-end street."

They wanted ownership and control of pigs. Clare says, "We didn't want to be working for someone else. And yet, economically, we needed to make changes."

Expansion likely meant employees. "You want to pay your employees good salaries," Chris says. "If you don't, you're not really being fair to them."

The Veldhuizens had good farrowing facilities. They were keeping PigCHAMP records, and were doing really well with them.

"We were very competitive," Clare says. "Then we could see how well the management systems were doing at the multipliers, Hiawatha and Calumet, and compared the results there with our own operation. Wow! They were just blowing us out of the water. We were doing good, but they were doing fabulous. They were more efficient and had more control. They concentrate strictly on raising hogs."

The Pipestone Veterinary Clinic prepares cash flows and information that producers can take to their bankers and financial advisors if they are considering joining or expanding with the Pipestone System.

"It worked on paper," Chris says. "Then we progressed slowly."

The Veldhuizens bought two shares in the Nokomis-Winnewissa sow unit. This brought them 1,200 ten-lb. pigs every eight weeks. They built one nursery with two rooms, 600-pig capacity each, and two finishers. The first pigs arrived in December 1994.

In 1996, the Veldhuizens decided they wanted to expand again by investing in another unit. They bought another two shares in a unit that started breeding sows in November 1997.

"We knew the system worked," Clare says. "We have faith in the system and so we invested in it again."

The Veldhuizens are in the process of building a 1,200-head nursery. And they are building three additional finishing buildings.

The extra finishing buildings will give them the opportunity to rotate buildings. Right now, the packer is demanding a heavier hog (270 lb.). "We will have a little bit more time in the finishing barn and more clean-up time," Chris says.

Other Advantages The importance of family is a common theme among Pipestone System producers. The Veldhuizens like being together as a family. "We load pigs together, we process pigs together, my family is with me all the time," Chris says.

The Baustians and Veldkamps agree with the Veldhuizens and also list the ability to have something to pass on to the next generation as being a big motivating factor in their decisions to expand their involvement with the Pipestone System.

The Veldhuizens say they feel they are getting the best of all worlds. "We can get numbers of like-genetic pigs for the packer, Chris says. "We have the boar stud with high-quality genetics we would never be able to afford if we were on our own. We have the ability to change genetic lines quickly to meet packer demand. The extensive recordkeeping gives us a mountain of comparisons. We've got all the ingredients of a large livestock farmer or corporate farmer, but we also have the independence and ownership of pigs."

Potential Drawbacks "Let's face it, the breeding, gestating, and farrowing is not in our hands," Clare says. "We have ownership, but we lease the management to the Pipestone Veterinary Clinic. If a person wanted hands-on control of that part of the production cycle, then this system wouldn't be for them. The way we look at it, we specialize in nurseries and finishers, and we like it that way."

"We want to tell other producers about the Pipestone System so they know there are options to remain independent and still be profitable," Clare adds.

"The points we want to re-emphasize about this system are that you can control your own destiny, your family can stay together on the farm and, if you work hard, you can make a profit."L