Perhaps Carl Swinford’s nephew, Rick Swinford, said it best. In nominating “Uncle Carl and Aunt Sally” as 2018 Master Farmers, he noted that this had to be a joint nomination because “they have farmed together since the day they were married as equal partners.” They have also laughed, cried, loved, raised a family and supported their community together in countless ways.
Carl is a third-generation farmer, and he and Sally live on the homestead farm in Hillsdale, Ind. He grew up milking cows, feeding chickens and raising pigs. It was a general diversified livestock farm like many others in the mid-20th century, Carl says.
“We built swine buildings later and had a farrow-to-finish hog operation for decades,” he notes. In fact, the Swinfords switched from farrow-to-finish to wean-to-finish, bringing in weanling pigs and finishing them out to market weight, in 2016.
“Our buildings we used for farrowing were getting older,” Carl says. “The original ones were roughly 50 years old and needed replacing. We decided our best option was to shift to finishing out pigs, and not keep sows and farrow pigs ourselves anymore.”
Team of employees
Staying in the hog business allows them to use their feed mill and continue to employ a talented crew of workers — some family members, some longtime employees. Various employees specialize in different facets of the operation. But when it’s time to get crops in or out of the field, or a heavy workday for hogs, everyone pitches in, Carl says.
Market-weight hogs leaving the farm are shipped to Indiana Packers Corp. in Delphi and Tyson in Logansport. The Swinfords do their own trucking, partly to maintain control of proper biosecurity measures. Once a group of pigs leaves a unit, the unit is empty for one to two weeks before the next group arrives.
Many people have moved their farm office out of the house and into the shop over the past decade. The Swinfords were ahead of that curve.
They built a free-standing office, 24 by 48 feet, in 1991 so there would be a central location where both employees and visitors could gather. It includes office space, a break room and a big picture window in front of the scales. Their goal has always been to weigh everything coming in or leaving the farm.
They also began using computers before computers were cool. The first computer arrived on the farm in 1980.
Christine Smith, Carl and Sally’s youngest daughter, left off-farm employment recently to spend more time working with the farm. She manages the office and is working into her role as manager of the farm operation. Her sons, Tanner and Tyler, are learning the management side of the business, as well.
When it comes to crops, the Swinfords have tried to stay up on technology over the years while taking care of natural resources at the same time, Carl says.
Yield mapping with RTK GPS guidance, aerial imagery and mapping every pass across the field has helped them fine-tune their cropping enterprise. They match varieties and seeding rates to the fields and soils based on what they learn from their observations and from information collected with precision farming tools.
Carl and Sally Swinford at a glance
Age: Carl, 77; Sally, 73
Location: Hillsdale, Vermillion County
Years in farming: 60 (Carl began farming with his father, Elmer, and brothers)
Crops: Corn, soybeans
Livestock: Hogs, wean-to-finish, producing about 35,000 market hogs per year
Employees: Christine Smith, manager; Steve Smith, crops manager; Rodney Clark, feed mill manager; Travis Huxford, hog manager; Randy Vaughn; Tanner Smith; Tyler Smith; Kelly Bishop; Chris Avenatti; Jarred Alln; Joe Miller (all full time)
Tillage methods: Vertical tillage where possible, ahead of both corn and soybeans; they converted to conservation tillage many years ago
Children: Vickie Swinford, Fremont, Ohio, senior business integration analyst for Church & Dwight Co. Inc; Kathy Clark (Rodney); Christine Smith (Steve); grandsons Tyler and Tanner Smith, and Gavin, Peyton and Bryson Clark
Leadership: Carl — treasurer of Vermillion County Fair Board for five years and counting; both — past members of Parke-Vermillion County Pork Producers; 4-H goat project mentors; sponsors in Kid Care program for underprivileged kids at local elementary school; hosted Indiana Farm Management Tour in 1980s; 2004 Vermillion County Farm Family of the Year
Nominators: Rick and Lori Swinford, Hillsdale
Notable: Carl was a 4-H member for 12 years, and he and Sally met when he and his brothers went to see Sally’s dad about 4-H pigs; couple will celebrate 56 years of marriage in August