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Hog Outlook: Great minds work to make producers’ jobs easier, more efficient and more productive.

Kevin Schulz, Editor

April 10, 2023

3 Min Read
outstretched hand holding geometric lightbulb illustration
NEED A SPARK: Great ideas to make a pig farmer’s job easier and more efficient are born from just a thought, or the vision for a need.Urupong/Getty Images

Farmers are the best at what they do, and they continually strive to get even better.

Improvements come in all facets of production, and a lot of times producers see a better or more efficient way of doing things. I envy those who see a problem, think through to a solution and put that solution into reality. I’ve had a lot of good ideas, but that’s usually where it stops.

Kudos to those who have the vision, intellect and know-how to take an idea to fruition of a useful application on the farm.

Back in my days at National Hog Farmer, I became acquainted with Mark Knauer, an associate professor and swine Extension specialist at North Carolina State University, as he was the contact for his team’s regular contributions to our content.

The NCSU team created great content, but that is easy when they do great research. A lot of swine research, including that at NCSU, centers on sow management, and everyone involved in the pig industry knows without healthy sows, there is no healthy industry.

Assess sow shape

Sows are the base upon which the swine herd is built.

Knauer recognized the importance of managing sow body condition, but he also recognized that rating body condition can be subjective depending on the observer. To remove subjectivity, the Knauer Sow Body Condition Caliper was born.

In a press release from the North Carolina Pork Council, Knauer explains, “Our caliper is a five-second process. It doesn’t exactly measure width or girth of a sow; it more accurately measures the angle of a sow’s ribs in relation to the backbone. This information helps determine whether a sow is being properly nourished. With an underfed sow, we have concerns about the health and well-being of the animal and will take corrective actions. With an overfed sow, we know we are expending too much money on feed costs.”

Knauer’s caliper was many years in the making, going from seeing a need, to fine-tuning, to having the product being used by producers across the country and the globe. For his perseverance, Knauer was recently named the 2023 recipient of the NC Pork Council’s Award for Excellence in Innovation.

Greater efficiency

Also seeking a solution after seeing a need, Brad Hennen of Ghent, Minn., created the Hennen Pig Chute as a way to prevent broken needles, improve vaccination accuracy, and relieve stress on pig and producer during the process.

The Hennen Pig Chute can be set up in a pen or in an alleyway, wherever a producer is already moving pigs, entering or exiting a building or room within a barn. “That’s the easiest way to achieve throughput because you’re not doing an extra handling of the pigs,” Hennen says. “You’re just doing it as your normal handling process.”

Pigs from 10 to 40 pounds are channeled to the aluminum chute via attached poly panels, and a pair of parallel conveyor belts comfortably moves the pigs through the chute.

Knauer and Hennen are just two of the minds behind swine industry innovations. Many more will be on display during the upcoming World Pork Expo from June 7-9 in Des Moines, Iowa. This event is the world’s largest pork industry-specific trade show, showcasing products and services from 400 companies aimed at making producers more efficient and profitable.

Over the years attending World Pork Expo, as well as any other agriculture trade show, I am continually amazed at the ingenuity of the products and services on display. Products on display have origins in some company’s research and development department, while many are born in a producer’s brain and designed in their farm shop.

I am in awe of the ingenuity on display, while asking myself, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

Schulz, editor of The Farmer, grew up on the family hog farm in southern Minnesota, before a career in ag journalism, including National Hog Farmer.

About the Author(s)

Kevin Schulz

Editor, The Farmer

Kevin Schulz joined The Farmer as editor in January of 2023, after spending two years as senior staff writer for Dakota Farmer and Nebraska Farmer magazines. Prior to joining these two magazines, he spent six years in a similar capacity with National Hog Farmer. Prior to joining National Hog Farmer, Schulz spent a long career as the editor of The Land magazine, an agricultural-rural life publication based in Mankato, Minn.

During his tenure at The Land, the publication grew from covering 55 Minnesota counties to encompassing the entire state, as well as 30 counties in northern Iowa. Covering all facets of Minnesota and Iowa agriculture, Schulz was able to stay close to his roots as a southern Minnesota farm boy raised on a corn, soybean and hog finishing farm.

One particular area where he stayed close to his roots is working with the FFA organization.

Covering the FFA programs stayed near and dear to his heart, and he has been recognized for such coverage over the years. He has received the Minnesota FFA Communicator of the Year award, was honored with the Minnesota Honorary FFA Degree in 2014 and inducted into the Minnesota FFA Hall of Fame in 2018.

Schulz attended South Dakota State University, majoring in agricultural journalism. He was also a member of Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity and now belongs to its alumni organization.

His family continues to live on a southern Minnesota farm near where he grew up. He and his wife, Carol, have raised two daughters: Kristi, a 2014 University of Minnesota graduate who is married to Eric Van Otterloo and teaches at Mankato (Minn.) East High School, and Haley, a 2018 graduate of University of Wisconsin-River Falls. She is married to John Peake and teaches in Hayward, Wis. 

When not covering the agriculture industry on behalf of The Farmer's readers, Schulz enjoys spending time traveling with family, making it a quest to reach all 50 states — 47 so far — and three countries. He also enjoys reading, music, photography, playing basketball, and enjoying nature and campfires with friends and family.

[email protected]

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