Back on the farm with Tina

Are you ready to hit the farm for a few more hectic days? If you read the previous post you have already met wife and mother of five – Tina. She balances and juggles the needs of her business life on the farm as well as spending time with each of her kids, her church family and friends. 

If you were to ask Tina why she loves living the farm life, a person can’t help but hear the sincerity in her voice as she explains it.

“Our family works hard together. We work through whatever hurdles pop up – whether it’s weather or broken machinery – so others can have access to the food they need. We want our fellow Oklahomans to have quality, affordable and healthy food at every meal. It’s our passion. Our family is proud to be a part of feeding everyone – from our neighbors to those living half-way across the world.” 

Curious how Tina’s weekend went? Keep reading to see her diary entries for Saturday, Sunday and Monday.  

Tina and goat

Tina holds her goat in a kind embrace to show him off to the camera. 

If you were to have been in our house on Saturday morning before 9 a.m. you would not have seen me. It wasn’t until then I was able to get my exhausted self out of bed. I cooked a simple breakfast of bacon and eggs on English muffins before I rallied the kids. We scarfed down food.

After a quick meal EVERYONE managed to get dressed to work outside with the goats. It wasn’t long before our human herd invaded the 200 plus goats in the field.

field of goats

The goats are strolling through the pasture where they will receive care from Tina’s family. Those who are to go to market today will then be loaded onto a trailer after which they will sell at market, helping to feed the world. 

Our family works together in the field all of the morning and part of the afternoon to care for the health of the goats. We vaccinate against diseases, use de-wormer to protect against parasites and we sorted the animals into groups.

The heat truly took a toll while we worked through lunch. However we made sure everyone took lots of water and Gatorade breaks. Even when the weather is extreme we make sure to prepare and take care of one another.

Once we have goats sorted we load 22 of them for auction into a livestock trailer. The goats we take are billy kid goats – which are young male goats that are not castrated. My husband and I then load our twin eight-year-old boys into the truck and head for the auction.

We’re on the road for about an hour before we arrive at the auction. We wait in line to unload for about 30 minutes and at 3:30 p.m. we are able to check in and unload the goats into pens.

Ben with goat

Tina’s husband Ben inspects one of the goats up close. Doesn’t he seem to be pleased with what he sees? 

If you think our Saturday was finished, think again. At 3:45 p.m. the drive to our north farm begins. The plan is to finish raking and baling tonight. When we arrive at 4:15 p.m. one of the twins goes with my husband while the other rides with me and while I rake, my husband bales.

Guess what happens at 6:30 p.m. No, we don’t finish working in the hay field. A chain breaks on the baler my husband is driving. I call John Deere (thank goodness for cell phones, am I right?) and drive into town with the twins to meet the John Deere dealer – after hours I might add – to pick up a new chain.

At 7:45 p.m. I once again grace the farm with my presence and after installing the new chain my husband once again is baling hay. I continue to rake. Once the raking is finished I start removing the bales from the field.

The bales must all be removed in order for us to use the central pivot irrigation system to deliver fertilizer to the hay field. The fertilizer is the manure from the pig farm and helps us to recycle the waste back into a better hay crop to feed other animals.

What happens then? My tire blows and I am no longer able to help my husband. I am now simply waiting for my husband to finish.  By this time it is VERY late and VERY dark, but finally we finish. We start the pivot system and it seems to be in working order. By 1 a.m. we are back home and getting showers done before collapsing into our beds.

The next thing I know, it’s Sunday and I’m up at 8 a.m. I shower and get ready for church, wake up the kids so they can get ready, and make some eggs for a quick breakfast. By 10 a.m. we’re out the door and on our way.

After an uplifting service finishes, we head to my parents house for Sunday lunch. By this point it is past noon. Lunch is served and enjoyed by all – my three youngest kids decide to stay with their grandparents while I take my two teenage daughters shopping for back-to-school clothes. (I know it is early – but I do so hate all the crowds).

While shopping we decide we might as well take out two birds with one stone, so we grocery shop too. I am back to my parents house by 6:30 p.m. to pick up my three youngest children and once we’re home I make dinner. Everyone gets to take leisurely showers since we are home so early.

The kids get in bed and I spend some time checking emails, then I stalk around social media and finally I watch my show on Netflix before I drift off to sleep.

Guess what though – the first cut of the hay season is finished and it’s a good day.

I greet the sun at 7 a.m. I proceed to get ready, eat breakfast and go to my desk to return emails, pay bills, make and return phone calls and sort all of the mail. This is the boring paper work part, but someone has to do it.

By 8 a.m. I get a call that the farm needs more semen to be able to artificially inboy on hay baleseminate the sows. I call the boar stud  and set up time to meet a delivery driver. (Securing the materials to breed the pigs is the job of the company with which my family contracts).

At 8:30 a.m. I am driving to Seminole, Okla. to meet the delivery driver with the semen. Once the delivery is finished I drive straight to the farm and get the semen into a cooler. I check the paperwork to make sure every single detail is in order before I leave.

Lunch is next on my agenda so at 10:30 a.m. I am making lunch and the family eats together around 11:30 a.m. By noon I am back to the desk and working on all of the paperwork. I plan for this to be my job the rest of the afternoon.

However at 3:30 p.m. my husband calls. He has a busted hydraulic hose and needs a new one as soon as I can possibly get one to him. Luckily by 4 p.m. I am at Napa Auto Parts store having a new hose made (and then I stop by the bank while I am in town). By 5 p.m. my husband has the new hose and less than 30 minutes later I am getting to water the flowers on my porch.

From 6-7 p.m. I make dinner. The family gathers to eat together and then everyone gets their showers finished. Once that is done, we sit down together and watch a movie. Want to guess which one? It is then time for bed.

Can you imagine spending a few days in Tina’s shoes? Does it sound fun to you? Would you be scared to have so many irons in the fire? Let me know what you think. Also, what questions do you have for Tina – or any other Oklahoma pig farmer? Let’s get connected! 


So fresh and so clean, clean…

What’s the first thing you do when you get to work in the morning? Do you snag a cup of coffee? Talk about last night’s television programs with your coworkers? Quietly check your email and hope no one talks to you before 10 a.m.? Not if you are a pig farmer.

If you are working on a modern pig farm the first thing you do is take a shower. You heard that right – you take a shower AFTER you get to work. Curious about why?

Shower clean side

This is the “clean side” of a shower room at a farm in northwestern Oklahoma. The uniforms stay on the clean side while farmers’ “street clothes” stay on the “dirty side.”

The showers are simply one of several steps of a biosecurity plan. Biosecurity is the term used to describe all of the processes in place to keep the pigs inside the barn as safe and healthy as possible – away from the germs and diseases outside the barn.

When coming to the barn you step into the dirty side – and if you are simply making a delivery you drop it through a window where it will be cleaned and disinfected. If you are coming to visit the animals or work – such as a farmer or a veterinarian – you will then step into a shower room.

Everything you have on when you enter the “dirty side” of the shower room comes off and goes onto a shelf or into a cubbie hole. You then jump into a shower and get scrubby with the bubbles all over – hair, glasses, jewelry included.

When you finish getting clean you step out of the shower into the “clean side” of the shower room where there are uniforms – usually scrubs or coveralls – waiting as well as all the undies and socks you might need.

This ensures that no matter what you may have touched – you are as clean and germ-free as one can be when you enter the barn and are around the pigs.

On the reverse – as the farmer leaves the barn they also take another shower. This is another step in the biosecurity plan to keep any germs which could be inside the barn from spreading to any other barns. Are you willing to take two showers a day for your job?

There is more to biosecurity than showers though. Before you even get to the barn you will almost always see a sign hanging on a fence letting you know that no unauthorized vehicles are allowed past this certain point. This isn’t because the farmers inside are hiding something – but so that no disease or germs are brought near the barn where farmers will be walking.

Moving pigs onto truck

Above you see farmers loading weaned pigs, those who are old enough and strong enough to be on their own, onto a truck to be taken to another farm where they will grow to market size.

When vehicles must come to the farm – such as feed deliveries and trucks which deliver pigs – those trucks are cleaned between loads and the drivers stay outside the barn while the farmers stay inside.

Of course the trucks are often scrubbed down with disinfecting soap and water but sometimes they are driven into a garage-like building called a truck baker. The doors close after the trailer is dropped in the building and sealed. The temperature is increased in the “baker” until it is high enough to kill bacteria.

As pigs move in and out of barns everything is soaped up and cleaned between groups of pigs. Just because bacteria may be carried without a problem by one group of pigs – it doesn’t mean the next group will be affected (or not be affected) by the bacteria in the same way.

Rising stalls

The above photo shows a farmer pre-rinsing the farrowing stalls – or stalls where sows give birth and spend the first days with their piglets to keep both sow and piglets safe. Every stall is cleaned between uses to keep all germs from spreading among different groups of pigs.

After sows and the piglets separate into their appropriate groups – all of the pens are power washed. The next group of pigs to come to the farrowing stalls will have the cleanest pens possible.

soapy stalls

The above photo shows some soaped up mats and pens being cleaned.

All of the above steps are taken to keep all of the animals in the best possible health. When the animals are healthy they will get sick less often and the less antibiotics are needed. These are all important factors to Oklahoma’s farmers.

What else do you want to know about biosecurity practices? What other questions do you have? Let’s talk pig farms folks! 

You’ve heard of pigs in a blanket, what about pigs in a pile?

penned sows

The above photo shows sows in a group housing situation. 

Legislators talk about it. Farmers talk about it. Activists talk about it. Moms in the city talk about it. Moms in the country talk about it. Dads everywhere talk about it. There is so much to wade through – how do you know what to hear?

There I go, talking about it and not even naming it. You see, I am talking about sow housing systems.

In Oklahoma a significant number of sows live their days in group housing. Another option is individual housing. Both of these housing options are healthy, safe and humane options where sows can live. The next post will cover individual housing options and why farmers sometimes choose to raise sows in stalls.

The number of pigs living in group housing in Oklahoma change with time due to renovations of older facilities and improvements in feeding systems. Group housing is also known in the industry as group gestation or pen gestation, which refers to the time when the sows, or mother pigs, are pregnant. During this time the sows will be living in large pens with other pregnant sows.

These groups of sows usually get to know each other. After having babies, being bred and becoming pregnant again the same group will come back together to spend their gestation period.

Pen gestation is very different from farm to farm and one main difference among them are the feeding arrangements. In Oklahoma there are electronic sow feeders and free access stalls. Both allow for the pig to eat in privacy away from the other pigs. This helps even the least aggressive pig to get plenty to eat.

If a farm has an electronic sow feeder, each sow must each have an electronic chip in their ear. When the sow walks up to the feeder the chip is read, and if the sow hasn’t eaten yet the gate will open. The correct amount of food is dropped into a pan inside the feeder once the sow has entered. When the food is all gone the pig exits through a gate on the other end of the feeder from where it entered.

The information is recorded about which sows have eaten, how much they ate and when they ate into a computer database. Each day a farmer checks the database to make sure each pig has eaten. If one of the sows doesn’t eat all the day’s food, the farmer goes out to the pen to see why. If the problem is simply a sleeping pig, the pig is woken up and the farmer will steer the pig to the feeder. If one of the sows is sick or hurt, the farmer will then remove the sow from the pen into the “hospital” where individual pens will help with individual treatment.

mansion checking pigs to feed

in the above photo, a farmer is checking the electronic tag in the pig’s ear against his list of pigs who haven’t eaten. This helps to ensure each sow gets plenty to eat each day. 

You will often find a pigs sleeping in a pile when they live in group housing. Farmers jokingly call the pile of animals a pig pile.

pig pile

Sows in a pig pile. You can also see a water nipple in the foreground where the sows have access to as much water as needed any time of day or night.

Free access stalls are another system to care for sows in groups. In this style there is a large group area lined by individual pens. Any time the sow wishes to be alone and not share space with the other females, they are able to open the individual pens themselves. The sow can simply push open the back panel of the stall and enter and as she does so the stall will close behind. The moment the sow wishes to leave the stall the sow simply backs up and the back panel will open.

When it is feeding time, each pen in a group is delivered the same amount of food and the sows will pick an individual pen to let themselves into to eat.

Checking_the_pens_MBStoryThe above photo is of a farmer checking the functionality of a free access stall. He is standing in the group pen and sows would are able to open and close the pens any time they choose.

With both styles of pen housing you can see the positives. There is a social aspect to the housing and room to move around at will. Each sow is still fed individually and has access to plenty of food and water to help keep both her and her growing babies healthy.

There are a few negatives as well to the group sow housing. Pregnant pigs are often mean to each other. They can be very territorial and violent. It is something which must be closely monitored. In addition, each animal must be trained to use the feeding system in place before they can be expected to become part of a group.

It is the farmer who is in the barn every day. It is the farmer who knows which pigs get along and which are bossy. It is the farmer who knows which sows are picky eaters and which ones are the first in line to the feeders. This is why we believe farmers should have the right to choose how they raise their animals.

What questions do you have about group sow housing? Of which parts would you like to see more photos? What other topics would you like to read about.

Dottie with a baby pig in arms2

Let me know! This is meant to be a discussion – but I need to hear your voice!

Archived: Planning to Fail

The old adage is failing to plan is planning to fail.

For months now, livestock producers across the country have been hounding USDA and Congress to do some planning for “what if” scenarios surrounding the 2011 and future years’ corn crops and the supplies we will carry forward for the coming years.

When I was in Washington, D.C., last month, I was encouraging our elected officials to look for an “off-ramp” or a “safety net” in case something goes dramatically wrong with this fall’s corn crop (or the crop that will be planted next year). Here is a prime example why I believe it is necessary to make plans now.

Surely you have all seen or read about the Army Corps of Engineers blowing up a levee in Missouri in an effort to save a town in Illinois. I won’t begin to debate the tradeoff between saving a town and flooding out 90 homes and 130,000 acres of farm land. There is no good answer to that debate.

However, I am willing to question the impact that decision will have on the corn supply. Let’s assume that only about two thirds of the 130,000 acres that were flooded were normally planted with corn. That would mean we lost about 80,000 acres of corn due to blowing up the levee. Those lost acres only represent a very small portion of the 92.2 million acres USDA is projecting to be planted. But I believe this is still a very significant number when supplies are already tight. To carry this thought a little further, let’s assume those 80,000 acres would have met USDA’s projected yield of 162 bushels per acre. In this scenario, the flooded out farmland would have produced almost 13 million bushels of corn. That’s enough corn to feed every sow in the state of Oklahoma for more than 514 days.

With a projected stocks-to-use ratio for corn under 5% for crop years that end this summer and next summer, there is simply no room for Mother Nature to be difficult. And planting for this year’s crop is already behind schedule due to cold, wet weather and now we are losing acres to flooding.

I know it’s not possible to plan for every possible situation. The flooding caused by blowing up the levee is one example of something you just can’t predict. But it is safe to plan on the weather creating havoc with crops somewhere in the country. Today, neither USDA nor Congress has any plan for what to do if Mother Nature fails to cooperate with our corn crop – and that’s planning to fail in my book.

Archived: Thanks Just Isn’t Always Enough

This afternoon I attended a reception honoring outgoing Oklahoma State Veterinarian Dr. Becky Brewer. After almost eight years as our state vet, Dr. Brewer is leaving to accept a position with USDA APHIS in Arkansas.

I have had many opportunities to work with Dr. Brewer over the past eight years and will miss her greatly. I know from my conversations with other livestock groups in Oklahoma, they will miss her as well.

Dr. Brewer provided tremendous leadership in the drafting of an emergency action plan for dealing with a disease outbreak. She recognized our industry is very mobile and extremely reliant on the ability to move animals out of and in to Oklahoma. She understood the economic consequences to our industry if we lost that ability to move animals. She encouraged and supported us as we worked on a draft plan for managing the crisis that could follow such an emergency.

She was also instrumental in helping us deal with the misconceptions that came with the H1N1 challenge in 2009. She led the charge to help draft a set of rules to track the movements of feral swine within our state. She embraced the expertise and knowledge that resides within the respective livestock organizations and producers across the state. She worked tirelessly to bring us together and keep us working together on projects that affected us all.

My congratulations go out to USDA and the state of Arkansas. You’re the real winners here. You are getting a great addition to your livestock community. Reach out to Dr. Brewer and welcome her with open arms. She’ll help do great things for your industry just as she did in Oklahoma.

It’s always tough to say goodbye to someone you respect and admire greatly. It’s even tougher when that person is your friend.

For Oklahoma’s pork producers, this is a tough goodbye. Dr. Brewer, you’ve been our protector and you’ve been our friend. Thanks isn’t enough, but it’s all we can say. We wish you all the best in your new venture.

Good luck and God speed.

Archived: 2011 Oklahoma Pork Council Award Winners

Today, Oklahoma pork producers are coming together for the 2011 Oklahoma Pork Congress and Annual Meeting. Each year, the Oklahoma pork industry honors a select few individuals who have shown their commitment to not just the pork industry but to the entire agricultural community.

Throughout the day – you can find updates by checking out our facebook page or following us on twitter (#OkporkCongress).

We’ll post more about our speakers, presentations and tradeshow later – but for those of you who can’t be there – here our our award winner videos:



For the full bios, visit the Oklahoma Pork Council Website at

Archived: Robinson Brothers Pork: Committed to caring for the Environment

Robinson Brothers Pork, owned and managed by Rich and Eddie Robinson, consists of 22,000 sows in farrow-to-wean operations. On each of their 13 sites around Holdenville, Okla., you will find an ideal example of an Oklahoma pork producer going green.

The Robinsons are as committed to taking care of the environment around their barns as they are to taking care of the animals inside the barns. Over the past few years, they have upgraded their waste management systems and found more efficient power usage options in order to reduce their farms’ carbon footprint.

They began by upgrading their systems that pump effluent from lagoons and apply it to hay fields. Their previous system used a diesel pump to move effluent from the lagoon to a spray gun where it was applied to the fields. This system took 12-14 days to pump 27 inches of effluent from the lagoon. This created a $140 dollar expense per day to apply effluent using this system.

The Robinson’s began upgrading diesel pumps to electric pumps in 2003 and have installed pivots that use Low Energy Precision Application (LEPA) technology on their sites. They can now drain 27 inches of effluent from the lagoons in 7.5 hours and it costs a total of $143 for the entire application.

“This new system has made lagoon management much easier,” Rich said. “In western Oklahoma, producers don’t worry as much about lagoon levels because they have much less rainfall. In eastern Oklahoma, our lagoons can get full at times. This system helps me manage lagoon levels better and save money in the process.

“In addition to the cost and time savings, we have seen an increase in our hay production,” he said. “We now average eight bales per acre each cutting and cut hay three times each year compared to six bales per acre with the old system.”

The Robinsons applied for and were granted money from the Natural Resources Conservation Services’ Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to upgrade the pumps and pivots. They received $6,800 for the pump upgraded which costs a total of $13,000. They received $19,000 for the pivots which cost a total of $39,000.

“I would encourage all pork producers to research NRCS programs,” Robinson said. “We found the application process to be easy and the assistance with your initial investment was very helpful.

To make the new application system work, the Robinsons needed three phase power to run the lagoons’ pump motors. To upgrade all power sources to the motors, it would have cost $40,000 per site. However, they found another option of converting the motors that drive their lagoon pumps to variable speed drives.

This system costs $4,000 per motor and will convert to three phase power at the motor rather than upgrading all the power sources. All but four of Robinson sites have variable speed drive motors and their business plan is to convert one site per year to the new motors.

“This new system gives me peace of mind,” Robinson said. “I don’t spend time worrying about lagoon levels when we are getting a lot of rain because I know we are better prepared.”

The Robinsons also enrolled in their rural electric company’s peak power user program. They agreed to use their farm’s generators for power and go off the electric company’s grid on peak power usage days. In return, the electric company waives the monthly peak user fee they used to pay saving $826 per month.

“The peak power program is great for us. We only go off the grid about 7 to 10 days out of the year,” he said.
To research a new way to reduce power used in their barns, the Robinsons enrolled their Sooner Pork facility in a pilot program with the People’s Electric Cooperative and Western Farmers Electric Cooperative to develop a new LED high output light bulb to use in the barns that uses 5 to 7 watts of power but puts out the same amount of light as the 35 watt florescent bulbs they currently use.

About six months ago, the electric cooperatives measured the current light output in the barns. They sent this information back to a company that will produce the new LED bulbs with the instructions that the light output had to be the same.

The Robinsons should be able to install the new light bulbs in early September. The electric company will install a meter on the barns to measure the power consumption from the lights and also check the amount of light output by the bulbs.

Researchers at OSU will monitor the baby pigs. They will track litter weaning weights on pigs under the different sets of lights to see if the sows milking ability changes. They will also look at number of pigs born alive and the mortality rate of the baby pigs.

“Our goal in tracking these biological aspects is to see how the sows and pigs perform under the new lighting system,” said Dr. Ron Kensigner, OSU animal science department head. “The Robinsons can then evaluate this data along with the power usage data the electric company collects to determine the efficiency of the new lighting system.”

“The biggest benefit of these changes is how we are reducing our carbon footprint,” Robinson said. “We don’t want to use any more power than necessary and want to use the latest technology to be as efficient as possible.”

What NRCS programs apply to pork producers?
If you are a producer and are looking at upgrades to your environmental management program there are programs from the Natural Resource Conservation Service that might help you.

The first set of programs, and the most popular of the NRCS programs, is the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP). This is a cost share program that helps farmers and ranchers install or implement conservation practices on agriculture land.

“The EQIP applications are ranked based on the specific resource concern(s) they address and the priority level established at the local level,” said Kenny Hitch, resource conservationist for Oklahoma’s NRCS. “So, if your project that addresses multiple resource concerns that have been identified as locally important, you will get a higher ranking.” 

EQIP funds are awarded from different ‘pools’ of money – state wide programs and county or multi-county specific programs. Applications are accepted and ranked on a continuous basis and money is awarded until it runs out. Some examples of EQIP programs that were available in 2010 are:

Lagoon clean-out
Manure transfer
Irrigation water conservation
CAFO waste management
Tube digester for mortality disposal

For a full list and description of EQIP programs visit

The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) is a new NRCS program that farmers and ranchers can enroll in to receive a payment for conversation practices they currently use and gives them additional payment for adding conservation activities to their management plan.

“CSP is a reward to producers for doing the right thing and an extra incentive for doing something a little extra,” Hitch said.

While EQIP is a project based program, CSP is a comprehensive program that looks at the whole agriculture operation. Also, CSP requires a five year commitment from the farmer/rancher that they will own or control and operate on the land and maintain conservation practices. Some examples of practices eligible for the CPS program are:

Air quality improvement
Planting a cover crop to take up additional nitrogen
Improving land application of treated manure on cropland
Reducing the concentration of nutrients on farms by reducing the amount of feed on farms
On farm composting of organic farm waste

“I would encourage pork producers to look at their entire agriculture operation when thinking about the NRCS programs,” Hitch said. “CSP could include things like wildlife management around the pastures where you land-apply.”

The NRCS has developed a CSP self-screen checklist that producers can complete to help them determine if the CSP program is right for their operation. You can download that check list at

Oklahoma NRCS receives an allotment of funds for each set of programs. The deadlines vary for each county or state program. Usually they begin accepting applications in December. You can find the deadlines and download applications online at

“Many program areas don’t have enough money to grant funds to each applicant,” Hitch said. “But other areas, such as animal waste management have money left each year.”

You should contact your county NRCS office for assistance with the application or questions about a program.

This article was originally published in the okPORK PAGES quarterly publication.

Archived: My first trip to the farm

I was born in central Indiana where soybeans and corn were a staple of my childhood. Upon a family move to Oklahoma, my agricultural projects revolved around show cattle and sheep. Where am I going with this? Well, agriculture has been interwined in my life from the moment I took my first pass in the combine as a toddler; however, until yesterday my size 8 feet had yet to step foot on a swine farm.

Nikki and I drove 2 hours to Calvin, Okla., to meet with Dottie King and her family. The Farrow to Wean farm has a wonderful story; however, you’ll have to wait until the next issue of Pork Pages for the specifics. [We can’t put Nikki out of a job now can we?]

What I can say is, my job as the liaison between producers and consumers is to open the lines of communication. The unknown is scary, what you hear – may not be the truth and if you ask questions we promise to give you an honest answer.

Oklahoma Pork Producers care about their animals. Their family farms are their lively hood. The goal is to provide safe, healthy product you can feed your family and they can feel their own.

I’m proud to represent Oklahoma Pork Producers, they are truly doing what’s right – caring for their animals, the environment and their community.