Donnie Hays: #PorkPOWER

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dad and mom on the farm with kids in marion county missouri

In #Agri-Ready Marion County near Monroe City, Donnie Hays joined the family farm business to become the site manager of the sow unit on Ketsenburg-Hays Farms when he returned home from college in 2014. The family is deeply rooted in agricultural production and leadership. Donnie’s father Todd is the vice president of Missouri Farm Bureau. His uncle Scott is serving as president of the National Pork Producers Council.

The family grows corn and soybeans and has a farrow to finish hog operation. In a farrow to finish operation, sows, or mother pigs, live on the farm and deliver litters of piglets that will live on the farm until they grow to the size to be marketed as pork. The Ketsenburg-Hays farrow to finish system is an example of a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) where hogs are kept in a controlled environment through all life stages.

CAFOs: Health, Security, and Sustainability

Ketsenburg-Hays CAFO in Marion County, Missouri

Keeping pigs contained in barns has a lot of advantages. The hog units are climate controlled so pigs are cozy in the winter and cool in the summer. Manure is regularly flushed out of the buildings and then captured, controlled, and upcycled as fertilizer on cropland. Clean conditions and routine maintenance minimize the threat of parasites and predators for confined hogs. Donnie works closely with his pigs which allows him to recognize sickness quickly and help the pigs to feel better. Biosecurity is very important to animal agriculture.

“The confinement unit is sustainable because we can grow more hogs in a smaller space while providing each pig plenty of space to be comfortable,” Donnie explained. “The pigs have not been regularly exposed to pathogens, so they have limited immunity. Those of us who work in the hog units are careful with our health. We can give the pigs the flu, even though we can’t catch it from them. If the sows weren’t healthy, they wouldn’t deliver productive litters of piglets. If our hogs weren’t comfortable, we wouldn’t be able to work with them and I wouldn’t be able to hear.” The noise from upset hogs has been measured at 95 decibels and above. Excessive noise above 70 decibels is unsafe for unprotected human hearing. Donnie mentioned that he likes to sing to the pigs just to entertain them (because farming can be fun, too).

A Day’s Work for Donnie

Piglet on Ketsenburg-Hays Farms in Marion County, Missouri

Donnie is responsible for managing piglets that are born in the sow unit every day. He uses artificial insemination (AI) to breed the sows, but he has some help from the boars, or intact male hogs, that are kept in the sow unit. The boars move along the aisles of the sow unit and “talk” to the ladies. The boars give off natural scents that will cause responses from sows that are ready to be bred and it is Donnie’s job to recognize those responses and AI those sows. The AI method eliminates natural breeding injuries and is an accurate, efficient management tool to make sure that piglets are being born all year round, which gives the farm steady income as the piglets are finished at market weight. Sometimes sows need assistance delivering piglets, and by helping them, Donnie saves the lives of sows and piglets.

On Ketsenburg-Hays Farms, sows, boars, and piglets each receive specific diets and fresh water in their individual pens and feeding areas. This is safer for the hogs because they do not fight over food.  When piglets reach about 80 days old and 40 pounds, they are transported to finishing barns on another farm where they grow to their finished market weight.

The Family Farm Legacy

Donnie has taken initiative toward his goal of owning an interest in the family hog operation by purchasing his first piece of property. Donnie and his wife, Ashley, have two young children, Thea (6) and Madden (3). They are active members of Missouri Farm Bureau and Missouri Pork Association, both partners of Missouri Farmers Care.

Donnie and Madden checking the pigs in Marion County, Missouri

“Our pork is safe. Our family eats it every day just like our consumers. It is raised humanely with the utmost respect,” Donnie said. “Our family farm is generational which I believe is proof that we are farming sustainably. I hope to be able to pass it on to my own kids someday.”