All for one attitude has Hutterite colony in the right frame of mind.
By Andrew Joseph
God. Family. Farming. One of these three is a real battle for the Hutterite colony. Yes, it’s farming.
Located about three hours south of Calgary, Alberta, and along the Porcupine Hills, the Spring Point Colony is a Hutterite community of about 100 people. It was established in 1960 after it separated from the Granum Colony 30-minutes east.
The colony owns 6,500 acres and rents an additional 5,500 performing enough crop farming to feed its livestock: 750 ranch cows, 120 dairy cows, 6,000 layer hens, 750 sheep, and its farrow-to-finish hog operation.
“As Hutterites, we try and live a Christian life,” explained Tim Walter, Manager of one of the colony’s sow barns. “We believe in having all things as one, where no one has their own possessions. We believe that everything one does is done for the next man - and in colony life, this is the only way to show our belief.”
Walter provided Benchmark magazine with a bit more information of the Spring Point Colony’s set up.
“We have four or five elders that oversee the financial and spiritual way of our colony,” he explained. “While the men do most of the work involving the farming and ranching, the women look after the cooking, baking, washing of clothes, and cleaning, including the garden work where we raise all our own vegetables and potatoes organically.”
As a closed community, the Spring Point Colony performs its own home schooling of the children. The very important kindergarten studies are looked after by the colony’s older women, but for the kids aged 6-15, a certified teacher teaches at their own certified school. Once past the age of 15, the children join the colony workforce and continue to learn from experience.
“We also have German school where we teach the Bible, our faith, and the German language,” continued Walter. “We speak a Low German but our sermons and writings and hymns that have been passed down from generations are written in High German.”
For your edification, the main difference between High and Low German is in the sound system - in particular, the consonants. High German, the language of the southern highlands of Germany, is also the official written German language - but of course being Canadian, the colony all speak English.
“Our biosecurity features allow us to quickly get on top of all situations.”
Interested in maintaining their own independence, the colony has its own workshop where the colonists perform their own mechanical work and manufacturing - whenever possible. For those wondering about technology and this Hutterite colony - let’s just say that a telephone and computer interview was conducted for this article.
At the Spring Point Colony’s farrow to finish hog operation, Walter noted that they have two barns - one with 220 sows and the one he manages with 430 sows.
Set up as an open finisher barn, Walter said that the facility he manages is the newer of the colony’s two barns. “We built it in 2005 and started breeding gilts in November of 2006,” he said. “But it has been an up and down battle because with the open finisher disease control is always a concern.”
The colony purchases its breeding stock from Topigs Norsvin Canada Inc. , the Oak Bluff, Manitoba offices of Topigs Norsvin, a leading global swine genetics company headquartered in The Netherlands.
The gilts at the colony are F1, a Yorkshire-Landrace cross that provides the best qualities of each pig type, while boars are the well-muscled but calm Duroc breed. Walter said those breeds were chosen “because it’s what the packing plant calls for - color of the meat and firmness.”
Although since eradicated, Walter admitted that the chronic respiratory disease Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae made its way into the barn in 2016 when a difficult battle to control mortality in the herd ensued. “Like other breeders, diseases do find their way in from time to time, but our biosecurity features allow us to quickly get on top of all situations.
“In November of 2021, the colony hired a new veterinarian, Dr. Joel Ballard, and since then with his vaccine and medication program we’ve gotten our post-weaning mortality down below 8%,” Walter related. “It was much higher the previous year at about 12.5%.”
At the colony, each pig barn has its own separate rooms for breeding, gestation, farrowing, hot and cold nursery, and one big finisher with pens.
“The pigs are moved into the finisher area at 98-days of age,” he explained. “We have scales where pigs go through to get feed, and through the one-way gates in order to reach their sleeping area.
“Once pigs reach 165lbs in weight, we sort them into an identically set-up second pen. When they reach 220lbs, they get sorted into a third pen and remain there until they reach the ideal weight of 260lbs, at which time the pigs are sorted into a load out, where we transfer them to a Maple Leaf Foods slaughterhouse in Lethbridge.
Walter said that the colony will market about 10,500 pigs annually, with the majority of the pig meat ending up in the Japanese market.
Biosecurity at the colony is, for all intents and purposes, low-tech. For one thing, the colony is located about one hour’s drive away from any other pig farm, according to Walter.
But, because cross-contamination can cause issues, Walter said that along with keeping the colony’s doors locked, whenever any colony member goes into town, they change into different clothing and footwear, changing again upon arrival home. Not only does this prevent cross contamination from themselves to anyone in town, it also prevents them from accidentally picking anything up either. When moving from room to room within the barns to help wherever work is required, handwashing is a must.
Walter provided a description of the typical goings on at the hog farm in the colony:
“Daily chores are fairly typical,” explained Walter. “We feed the sows in the lactation, gestation and breeder barn, walking pens in the finisher and hot nursery - and note that if there’s anything that needs to be fixed, we get it done right away.”
On a weekly basis, the colony workers perform on Mondays: tail docking, castration, and iron shot for the pigs; then service sows. “We as Hutterites aren’t allowed to AI (artificially inseminate) our sows so we have to induce natural mating,” he stated adding that afterwards pigs are moved out of the hot/cold nursery.
Tuesdays are generally spent servicing sows for the second time, along with washing down the hot nursery room area, followed by tattooing the pigs that are ready to be sold for market.
On Wednesday, Walter said his team will pregnancy-check sows that are now 30-days post-serviced, and if pregnant will move them into the gestation room. Weaning the sows that are 27-days lactating is also done on this day.
“Thursdays are when we move the piglets that were weaned the day before into the washed-down hot nursery room,” said Walter. “Since the sows start to farrow on Thursdays, we’re there all day watching to ensure that everything goes smoothly. In the afternoon, one of the truckers in the colony hauls our market hogs to the Lethbridge Maple Leaf Farms slaughtering plant - we’re only an hour from Lethbridge.”
Fridays are when the team fosters small piglets and takes extra care with them to ensure they will survive their stay in the barn. On Saturdays, they pen up all sows that are due to farrow in five days.
“On Sundays, we only do the most important chores, like feeding the animals,” he stated. “We don’t work a lot on Sundays, we have church in the morning and in the afternoon. With a busy six days of hard work, Sundays we rest and spend time with our family.”
The daily routine within the farm for Walter is a little different from other breeding farms - not in actual work, just in time allocation, as the colony has three meals a day: breakfast, dinner, and supper.
Getting up every morning at 6:30AM, Walter explained that he has breakfast at 7AM at the centralized kitchen where the colony eats together.
At 8AM, he picks up his four helpers and drives out together to the barn located about one kilometer north of the colony in the truck he cares for. Daily chores are performed until 9AM, at which time they all hop back in the truck for a coffee break.
Back at the barn, the team will perform their daily duties until 11:30AM, at which point it’s now dinner time. Following the mid-day meal, and the team back at the barn, Walter will spend his time fixing things that need fixing or performing necessary computer data work on the hog’s upkeep. “We use PigCHAMP Standalone to help make decisions for our sow herd,” he stated.
The later part of the afternoon is spent feeding the lactating sows again until it’s time for the colony’s daily evening church followed by supper. But, following the evening meal, Walter said he goes back to the barn for a final look-see to ensure everything is good before heading home for some well-earned family time.
Walter said that he really enjoys working on the farm. “Pigs can have a huge impact on our stress, but with good help and working together for each other makes life a lot easier.”