Watching excellence at work
PETERSON – Since 1974 the Master Pork Producer Award has been bestowed upon those who have met the high standards set by the Iowa Pork Producers Association.
A Cherokee County winner in 2008 was Rodney Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald said he was an unlikely candidate for the award. Having grown up in Pocahontas, he went to work for an area pork producer after his high school years.
“I was always learning,” said Fitzgerald. “I went to a lot of classes and meetings put on by Iowa State University. From that beginning, I hung in there and worked my way up the ladder.”
Since 1995 Fitzgerald has been manager of the Twin Valley Producers Network Inc., a corporation owned by six area farmers. A farrowing unit producing 60,000 isowean pigs each year. Living on site, he is on the spot when a problem occurs.
Isowean means pigs that are weaned early and segregated from the rest of the breeding herd. It’s a system designed to alter the development of microbial flora in the piglet.
In a typical day, Fitzgerald works alongside his seven employees beginning the feeding and caring of the sows by 6 a.m. The work is split evenly between farrowing and breeding barns.
Twin Valley weans pigs at 20 days with an average weight of 13.5 to 14 pounds. The Iso-wean pigs are delivered to six sites in school buses.
Farrowing is continuous in the 20 rooms that have 26 crates. He adheres to the principle of all-in-all-out. Sows average 24 pigs per year with 2.5 gestations.
To minimize disease possibilities, power washing is done daily somewhere on the premise. Fitzgerald maintains a closed herd, raising their own gilts. When he chooses to change genetics he does that through semen selection. All breeding is done by AI.
The perfect sow now, according to Fitzgerald, is one that has a high efficiency and daily gain. “It is important to have a production sow that milks good, produces a good litter size, but I also have to consider the pig she produces and the farmers who get that Isowean pig,” he said. “With today’s feed costs and market prices, the main goal is to have pigs grow fast on the least amount of feed. That is what I am keen on now when choosing genetics.”
To ensure that he and his employees are doing the best job possible, everyone involved in the production is PQA-Plus certified. The classes are offered through the National Pork Association with recertification taking place every three years.
The classes taught by ISU Extension focus on animal welfare, moving animals, vaccinations and documentation.
All manure from the Twin Valley is sold to area farmers. Before, the work was hired out, but now they are gearing up to apply the manure themselves. Fitzgerald and three of his employees have recently received their manure application certifications.
The day of his evaluation by the Master Pork Producers committee is the day Fitzgerald received his National Animal Identification System number. This premise ID is part of a national program that is being developed to identify animals and track them as they move from one location to another.
The purpose of the program is to create a database that will allow a rapid trace back in the event of a disease outbreak. The program is administered by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.
Fitzgerald is a member of the Iowa State Reserve Law Officers. He has served as a police reserve for the city of Cherokee for 14 years. Beginning in April, Fitzgerald will take command as president of the Iowa State Reserve Law Officer Association.
Fitzgerald’s enthusiasm has carried over to his two sons – one of whom works with him, the other for a neighboring family pork operation. He said he was honored to have been named an Iowa Master Pork Producer.
Contact Renae Vander Schaaf by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please Enter Your Facebook App ID. Required for FB Comments. Click here for FB Comments Settings page