Built by family for the family.
By Andrew Joseph
Situated in the extremes of northwest Iowa in the outskirts of the town of Alvord, Pig Hill West is a multi-generational, “next generation” farm with 4,400 sows, their offspring and growing stock. Pig Hill West is one area that comprises the diversified agricultural business, Pig Hill Co.
After a stint in the army, Howard Mogler—who grew up in the farming industry with his father—started up the original sow farm “Pig Hill” in 1976 seeing it as an opportunity for his children to hopefully farm as a career.
“The original Pig Hill sow unit was built as a 200-sow farrow to finish unit,” explained Janae Metzger, a third-generational family member of the founder and the company’s Recruitment & Development Director. “Over the years, it has expanded beyond just the family and now has 18-full-time people and five part-time workers caring for our pigs.”
Along with the swine, Pig Hill supports itself by raising crops, has 4,000 head of beef-feedlot cattle, and operates a grain elevator—all of which adds an additional 22 full-time staff and 12 part-time team members.
Mogler initially had four sons join the business: Rodney, Brian, Dwight, and Perry, but after Perry was diagnosed with brain cancer and passed, son Kent joined the team working as a part-time financial consultant.
Metzger said that the children of Rodney, Brian and Dwight began working on the farm at an early age, too, but it was in 2009 and 2010, that Chet and Ross—sons of Brian and Rodney, respectively—joined the full-time daily machinations of the farm.
“A few years after them joining the farm, the partners began researching the opportunity to expand the sow herd by building a next-generation farm,” said Metzger. “In 2015, construction began on our 4,400 head sow farm and when I—daughter of Dwight—was hired to assist Chet with the start-up of the Pig Hill West sow farm.”
Other family members include: Chet’s sister, Rosalee, who works full-time with sow-farm specific trucking and biosecurity as well as supporting other areas of the bigger picture operation; and Perry’s son, Rier, and Dwight’s son, Evan, who both enjoy helping on the farm after school and on the weekends. Dwight has two sons-in-law’s also on the full-time team helping in the grow-finish area and beef cattle enterprise.
She added that along with the sows at the Pig Hill West sow farm, the company also has ownership in two other sow units—all told, it markets about 200,000 head of pigs a year.
“We strive to create a clean and fun work environment to attract young talent.”
Pig Hill West utilizes Topigs Norsvin genetics in its parent herd, and to produce commercially raised offspring they will artificially inseminate via the swine supplier’s Duroc boars. “We are an internally multiplied herd breeder and so we bring in the boar semen to raise the future stock onsite.”
Metzger told Benchmark that the sow farm is made up of five buildings all connected by hallways. “We have two gestation barns,” she noted, ”that allows us to parity segregate our sows so that they are housed with like-sized and -aged females.”
These gestation barns are large pens capable of holding 275 to 315 head, and feature Nedap Inc. electronic sow feeding technology. This system ensures each sow can receive the individual feed and care it requires while in the gestation group, as it allows the farm to set feed plans for each sow thereby eliminating feed waste while creating cost-savings and efficiency.
There are two farrowing buildings—with a total of 16 farrowing rooms of 48 pens and an additional six nursery rooms that Pig Hill uses for its internal multiplication rearing. “In one of the farrowing buildings, we also maintain our office, loadout, mortality removal, shop and supply entry rooms,” Metzger added.
Excluding the females that aren’t specifically reared for future breeding stock, Metzger said that the piglets are raised in nurseries and finishing barns that Pig Hill has contracted with local farmers.
She noted that all the above is what the company does physically, but that its real purpose is “to create a fulfilling workplace for generations to come.
“It is much more than the work we do,” explained Metzger. “Although that is important, the people that make up the workforce to achieve our work goals are much more important. We strive to create a clean and fun work environment to attract young talent and instill a passion for agriculture.
“The family and owners of Pig Hill are mentioned in this article,” she continued, “but I wish I could list all my team members and tell you about each of them and what they do to make us successful every day.”
Metzger said that her day-to-day activities vary daily. “I support the sow farm manager with daily and future operations, and often help out and work alongside the team when support, training, and guidance is needed.
“Sometimes that includes weaning pigs, and other times its onboarding a new employee—I’m responsible for HR matters for the entire company, including recruiting, hiring, onboarding, payroll, safety, benefits, and more,” she related. “We have some team members who are from Mexico on the TN visa, so I perform all the necessities with that program and help these workers integrate into our business and community.”
As for how Pig Hill is “next-generation” and different from the farm of yesteryear, Metzger acknowledged that the family farm has some of the latest technology to make the pigs safer in their environ allowing for high standards of care, and having a workplace an attractive one to be at.
The facility can monitor multiple measurements of ventilations such as temperature, static pressure, humidity and more; bin weights and consumption, provide individual sow data, and denote key performance metrics—all viewable from their own phones.
“When our sow barn was built in 1976, it was a one-of-a-kind building, too,” Metzger noted. “It was the very first indoor sow farm and shower-in unit in our area.
“And, when we built Pig Hill West in 2015, it was also done to be a state-of-the-art facility—and it still is,” Metzger said.
Growing up in the pig rearing business was simply just a normal way of life for Metzger. She recalls being a toddler helping her father with his nursery chores and showering into the sow farm, providing him with some help on the weekend.
“I probably wasn’t much older than six,” she recalled. “My father managed the sow farm, so I naturally spent a lot of time there growing up and learning about pigs.
“As soon as I was big enough to carry a bucket, I was taught how to creep feed,” Metzger said. “And then as I got bigger and could push a feed cart, I was taught how to feed sows the proper amount of feed.
“I believe that growing up in the farm life has certainly provided me with a strong work ethic and my passion for animals.”
Despite her current love of the farm, Metzger said that while she was in high school, she thought helping people as a nurse was what she wanted. However, after six weeks in college, she realized that her passion was for animals, and wanted to study Animal Science—and after a switch, said she enjoyed every single class.
“There are a lot of challenges raising pigs, but I have such a passion for the animals and want to care for them,” she said. “If we take good care of them, they take care of us.
“The swine industry has a lot of great people involved—from the veterinarians to nutritionists and other swine owners, they are just really smart, incredibly helpful, and caring people,” related Metzger. “Whenever I get the chance to go to a swine event-congress, expo or conference, it’s like a reunion to catch up with the other “swine family” you have.”
And speaking of family, Pig Hill Co. is in no danger of running out of family members to continue the business. “We’re going to have future pig farmers for quite a few more years to come,” laughed Metzger. “Along with Chet and his seven beautiful children, Ross and his wife have five, and my husband and I have one.
“There are other family members who are involved in the farm, and their children are beginning to help where they can,” she summed up. “It is very exciting to the see the energy these children—our fifth generation—have for the farm, its animals, and land.”