Growing the family legacy one quality pig at a time.
By Andrew Joseph
First things first: Clare Schilling, 38, and Drew Schilling, 34, are siblings - not a married couple. To clear up the confusion amongst its customer base, the co-owners playfully renamed the family’s farming operation as Sis-Bro, Inc.
Located in New Athens, IL, just southeast of St. Louis, Sis-Bro provides 280,000+ high-quality ISO weans to sell to other producers across the Midwest and to farmers who will grow them to market size. They finish a very small number of hogs through a contract grower, but are looking to expand that venture as well.
To supplement continuous operation, the farm holds back 7,000 gilts to be utilized as future breeding stock.
Rearing weans have been part of the family business since 1955, when the duo’s grandfather was given a pregnant sow as a wedding gift from his godfather. “That was the start of our hog operation,” explained Clare Schilling.
“Our dad and uncle expanded through the years, running the company under the L&A Schilling name,” stated the third-generation farmer, Schilling, adding that she and her brother took over in 2007, changing its name in January of 2016 to its current confusion-free moniker.
“We had worked on the farm all through our childhood and learned the production side of the business working alongside the company’s non-family employees as we grew up,” she said.
Sis-Bro runs two breed to wean sow barns - the Sisbro barn with 6,200 sows; and the CD BELL (an acronym consisting of the first letter of everyone’s name in the family: Clare, Drew, Beth, Emile, Ludger and Lindsey) housing 5,200 sow.
Both barns are breed-to-wean operations, meaning the sows are bred, piglets are farrowed and raised until they are three weeks old and typically about 13-pounds, at which time they are ready to be sold.
“We run Choice and PIC (Pig Improvement Company) genetics on the maternal side. On the terminal side we use the PIC 800, a Duroc sire line that provides robustness, growth, and pork quality,” Schilling said.
Choice Genetics is a global swine genetics company powered by Groupe Grimaud, the second-largest multi-species animal genetics company in the world. PIC is the swine division of the genetics business Genus plc, selling genetically superior breeding pigs and semen to farmers for commercial pig breeding.
Schilling explained that most of Sis-Bro’s day-to-day business revolves around providing the best means possible to maintain a healthy herd, raising quality pigs, and maintaining the family legacy.
“Along with the pigs, we row-crop corn and soybeans,” related Schilling. “We sell our beans, but all of our grown corn is fed to our pigs.
“We also have our own feed mill which supplies feed to both sow units and our grower barn,” she continued. “We also have our own truck wash where we wash, disinfect, and bake all our trailers and trucks after they return from taking loads of pigs. We perform all these things to maintain the highest level possible of biosecurity.”
She explained how each of the company’s state-of-the-art barns is internally multiplied. “We make our own replacement gilts in-house. We do not bring in any gilts, as we see this as the highest risk of bringing in disease or sickness. Our future herd is born and raised in our own barn.”
The CD BELL and Sis-bro barns each house a: gestation barn where the animals are artificially inseminated and gestated; farrow barn where the sows give birth and nurse their litters until weaned after three weeks; nursery barn for the three-week-old gilts that Sis-Bro opts to keep back for later insemination, staying here for seven weeks; GDU (gilt developer units) where the gilts are raised until reaching breeding weight.
“Besides the major diseases we already currently battle, such as PRRS and PedV, we are very nervous about African Swine Fever and especially what it will do to the markets,” admitted Schilling even though no cases have yet to be reported in the US. “We do our best to keep up with our biosecurity procedures. However, we are aware that even if it doesn’t reach our farm, Swine Fever will still cause the markets to crash, affecting us.”
Biosecurity measures at Sis-Bro consist of the following:
- Employees must shower in and out of the barn;
- Supplies enter only via a disinfection room where it is fumigated;
- Separate livestock trailers and trucks for each barn to avoid cross-contamination;
- Rodent stations are utilized;
- Weekly power washing all hallways, load chutes and rooms;
- Prohibition of visitors from entering a barn unless they have a two-day downtime from other animals;
- Using its own truck wash and feed mill;
- Prohibiting employees from traveling between sites, again to avoid cross-contamination.
In addition to biosecurity, Clare and Drew do everything possible to have their eyes in the barn - even when they can’t physically be there. To help with that, they have The EDGE 2 controller system from AP installed in both units providing proper ventilation control and environment settings.
The state-of-the-art EDGE program enables quick adjustments and assurance for proper settings.
It has also provided the farm with the added luxury of being able to monitor the business and any alarms that go off in the middle of the night from the comfort of home via their smartphone, without having to make the drive into the workplace.
Because a livestock farmer’s work is never done, Schilling provided some insight on what her daily workflow is like.
“Taking care of our employee needs is extremely important to us,” she related. “Successful people management helps us do the job right. We have great leads, but we need to ensure they have everything they require to perform their job at the highest level.”
Along with maintaining constant communication with their nutritionist, veterinarian, venders, pig buyers, and the constant procurement of supplies and ingredients, Schilling also keeps track of all weekly targets and maintains the production records.
“I’m also constantly reviewing current biosecurity measures while developing new ones,” she said, acknowledging that it is more of a quarterly process.
But within the barns, there’s always feeding, breeding, Day 1 care, environment checking, power washing, cleaning, and the old stand-by of data entry. Busy? You betcha. But Schilling said she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I truly enjoy the farm life,” she revealed. “It challenges and tests me every single day. The discipline it instills within me is irreplaceable.
“It’s a constantly-changing and evolving business, and leading Sis-Bro forces me to make decisions daily - which is good.”
Schilling continued: “It is an industry filled with hard work and grit. I’m surrounded by wonderful people who wake up every day to provide the best care they can to their animals, their employees, and their business.”
She opined that most people seem to underestimate just how complex farming is. Comparing today with how things were just 50 years ago, she noted that the number of farmers in this nation has decreased significantly, and has created an even deeper separation between those who farm and those who do not.
“Livestock farming has changed so much in the past few decades, with pork production having changed the most,” she said. “The public doesn’t really get a chance to see pigs anymore, because they are raised indoors to better provide for their needs.
“With biosecurity the way it is, just seeing a live pig can be nearly impossible unless you’re a pig farmer.”
Pig technology is also key to the current method of pig farming, explained Schilling, noting that if people realized how much technology was involved in the business, it might cause more people to become more interested in it.
“With the new technologies, I can do things such as turn the heat lamps on and off for the baby pigs from my phone regardless of where I am in the world,” she said. “The other aspect is that agriculture in general has such a vast variety of job opportunities tied to it, such as choring barns, production, or providing consulting, marketing, accounting, nutrition, and veterinarian services. I think that the pig business provides many options for people looking for an exciting career.”
However, despite the available opportunities, Schilling said she remains grateful she was born into it.
While not every farmer’s kid becomes a farmer, Schilling said she remained in the industry because she had an interest in it and a desire to take the family business to the next level.
“My dad was at a point of needing to make drastic changes and investments in order to keep up with the fast-changing industry, but getting older, he was uncertain if he should take the leap without the next generation being involved.” Schilling added that she stays in the business because farming seems to be in her DNA, regardless of the punches thrown her way.
“On the good days - which occurs most often - raising livestock can be the most rewarding job there can be,” revealed Schilling. “I care deeply about my animals, my employees, and most of all the foundation that my grandparents laid down for me to follow in.
“I want to keep it alive and successful for the future generations.”