Great ideas tend to float through the ether until finding the right fertile mind to implement them.
Something like that must have happened to Pat Hord. He graduated from high school in 1987 and joined his father, Duane, on the family farm near Bucyrus, OH, planning to concentrate on the hog business.
With 150 sows and aging facilities, his father soon began thinking about how to give the farm a better shot at survival.
“Dad went on a trip to North Carolina with the National Pork Producers Council. He came home and said, ‘We've got to go to 600 sows, but I don't know how.’ That was four times larger than we were at the time. It sounded crazy,” Pat says.
He soon realized his father was right. They had to update facilities and make them environmentally sound. They had to grow or get out of the business.
Pat hit the road, too, looking at hog farms in North Carolina, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and others.
“I wanted to see what successful producers were doing. I read industry magazines. I talked to consultants and veterinarians, people who see things all over the world. I learned a lot,” he says.
“Being willing to learn is important. If you don't continue to learn every day, it doesn't matter how much schooling you have.”
His father began to focus more on crops while Pat handled the hogs, which he enjoyed most.
In 1993, the new hog farm opened with 700 sows in one location. Before long, that grew to 1,000 sows, then to 1,500, and never stopped. Today, Hord Livestock has 11,000 sows, about 80 employees and could grow more.
“We grew into it. That's really important to us. We don't want to do any more than we can be successful at. We don't want to sacrifice excellence at the altar of growth. That sometimes caused us to grow slower,” Pat says.
At the outset, Hord contracted with other farmers to take newly weaned pigs for finishing. Currently, about 60 contractors feed Hord's hogs.
“There was a period in the early '90s when you could determine if you wanted to be the integrator or the contractor. When we first started, I thought about contracting. But I was naïve enough to think we could figure it out and do it ourselves. It's kind of unheard of today to start and do what we've done,” he says.
From the planning stages, Hord intended for the new units to be environmentally sound. He's most pleased with his Temple Woods sow farm, a 2,400-head unit built in 2002, surrounded by corn, soybean and wheat fields, plus a buffer of trees. Manure is stored in a 10-ft.-deep pit with a year's capacity.
The manure gets incorporated into wheat stubble in late summer, or after corn and soybean harvest, using an AerWay SSD with a 5,000- or 12,000-gal. tank or a hard hose dragline system.
“It does an excellent job of mixing manure into the soil, so it eliminated tillage prior to the manure application. It helps prevent manure from moving through soil cracks and/or earthworm holes and getting into the subsurface drainage tile,” he says.
Based on 2006 fertilizer prices, the total value of nutrients produced at Temple Woods is $16,218 annually, he says.
“We haven't built a farm with a lagoon since 1996. As we analyzed the economics, we felt a pit made more sense. Plus, there's been a negative stigma in the media about lagoons. And, we have the crops that can utilize the nutrients. As the price of fertilizer increases, we're seeing increased value out of the deep pit,” he says.
Growing ever larger, Hord Livestock invested in ways to improve manure management and maximize nutrient use by crops.
In 1999, Hord cooperated with several state and federal agencies to test manure movement through soil structure on the farm, evaluating several systems, application rates, ground conditions and handling equipment.
They also worked with a soil scientist, studying how earthworms affected manure movement through the soil. The researcher found the earthworm population was very high, most likely due to no-tilling crops. It made Hord aware that some sort of soil tillage prior to manure application helps keep it from moving through earthworm holes.
“There's a lot of tile in this area, a lot of subsurface drainage,” Hord explains. “Earthworm holes have the potential to allow effluent to move through the soil structure and into the subsurface drainage. We like having the earthworms, and the AerWay allows that, but what we're doing breaks those holes up. And on no-till ground, it's not causing erosion. Plus, it breaks up compaction.”
Hord pays close attention to soil conservation, and has no-tilled crops for 20 years. All soybean and wheat fields, and some cornfields, are no-tilled. He figures no-tilling saves $13.34/acre in plowing and cultivating costs, including the costs of running equipment.
The 4,500-acre farm includes 40 acres of filter strips designed to keep chemical and manure runoff out of water sources. Grassed waterways also reduce soil erosion and protect water quality. “Ours are 66 ft. on both sides of the waterway,” he says.
“We want to make sure we have no bad publicity. It's important that we don't have any water quality violations. We present ourselves as professionals,” he adds.
Air quality is also important. The company planted more than a mile of vegetative windbreaks. In 2001, they landscaped with a truckload of fast-growing trees.
“We do this for air quality and for aesthetics. Trees vertically disperse dust particles, which carry odor. They also disturb the air pattern and cause it to mix and tumble, which dissipates odor,” he says.
“The Temple Woods site is next to a body of trees on two sides. There, we're taking some advantage of being on the downwind side of trees. When we site a contract facility, location is the first thing I look for. I'm looking for a body of trees.”
Ride the main road by Hord's headquarters, and you see a trimmed-and-tidy yard in front of the office; a large electronic sign flashing time, temperature and grain prices; and across the road, the company's 900,000-bu. grain storage facility and feedmill.
“I never rationalized that I could place pigs in this location and folks not know it. We want to engage our community. We want people to know who we are and what we do. Everything is above board,” Hord says.
“We want people to perceive us as a value to the community, for employment and for the economic activity we generate, and we want to be seen as a leader. We're trying to build credibility and comfort levels in our community and educate the public. Part of that is being visible.”
Hord sends a quarterly newsletter to everyone living near one of the company facilities. It includes a wide range of topics, ranging from manure handling issues to animal welfare, along with recipes and local information.
In addition, Hord hired a videographer to put together a film on a mini-CD he calls a “D-Card.” The D-Card is given to neighbors, Chamber of Commerce members, contract growers, new employees and anyone else interested in the company. It profiles the company and explains Hord's position on issues like animal welfare and environmental stewardship. The CD also includes testimonials from neighbors, employees and contract growers.
“We tried to address the hot topics so we can keep on the offensive. People have responded well,” he says.
Hord has a gauge for measuring public relations success on a hog farm. “The quieter it is, the better. I can count on one hand how many complaints I've had about odor,” he says. “What we're trying to do with the D-Card, the newsletter and with our web site is put a face on the farm for the public.”
Hord calls himself an environmental activist, and says stewardship just makes sense. His family lives here, drinks from well water and breathes the air.
“I make my living by how well I can care for our livestock. The better I treat them, the better I can provide for my family,” he says.