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Beeler Pork aiming for niche markets

By Staff | Dec 18, 2009

A sow and piglet share an affectionate moment on the Heluka Farms near Le Mars.

LE MARS – Beeler Pork, a fifth-generation, family owned hog operation in central Plymouth County, is finding a name for itself in the all natural foods industry. Receiving three prestigious product awards, “is just icing on the cake,” said owner Tim Beeler.

Past awards were won for Beeler’s products including:

  • All natural preservative-free boneless ham, awarded New Product of the Year, by Iowa Pork Producers.
  • All natural preservative-free natural casing wieners, awarded as one of state’s top-tasting hotdogs, by an Iowa daily newspaper.
  • Uncured apple cinnamon bacon, awarded best sweet bacon honors, by nationally distributed cooking magazine, Everyday with Rachel Ray in the December ’09/January ’10 issue.

“The results of these recent promotions has escalated the interest in our products tremendously from all over the country,” Beeler said. “It also appears we will pick up some new larger retailers as well.”

To conform to this niche market, the Beelers adopted a new method of raising hogs – the Heluka system. Heluka, Beeler said, is a Native American word meaning “Full of Sun.” They’ve christened their operation Heluka Farms because every pig is free to wander outside at will and enjoy fresh air and sunshine.

The Beelers started their Heluka system in 2004 with two goals in mind – the welfare of the pigs and the palate of consumers.

An outside view at Heluka Farms. As is evident, pigs have the freedom to wander outside or stay indoors. In warmer weather, the confinement buildings let in natural light and air. In winter, they are warm and well-ventilated.

After observing European hog farming techniques in a land where gestation and farrowing crates have been outlawed, the Beelers worked on the design of their own farms.

“We designed our gestation barns after the ones we saw in Europe, of course, no crates, a deep bedded area for sows to nest, root and explore.

“There’s separate food and water court and, of course, an area for sows to go outside and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine.”

Beeler added that “while our gestation barns are working well, the maternity barns have been a challenge.

“Numbers in our maternity barns are not that of conventional operations yet, we are confident we will get there.”

A view of one of the water and food court.

All of Beeler’s barns are naturally ventilated allowing for fresh air and sunshine inside as well.

Another unique aspect of this operation is the breeds of pigs being used. Because the Beelers do not enhance their pork they require a genetic line with a higher marbling score and Ph level to provide a more tender and juicy cut of meat.

An exclusive line of Duroc Boar is being used as sires. On the maternal side, a line was chosen that proved to be docile, adaptable to the large pen system and willing to respond well to human interaction. These sows are a mix of Large White, Landrace and Duroc.

Pork sold under the Beeler name is not treated with antibiotics. That being said, Beeler explained, “We do treat sick animals, but those that are treated are then identified and sold to the conventional market.

“The fine line we walk is when to treat. After all, a live marketable conventional pig is still worth more than a dead welfare-friendly natural one.”

Beeler said that all pork producers are all in the same game of producing a safe, nutritious and compassionately raised product for the consumer. “Some of us have just focused on a very specialized way of doing it for very selective markets,” he added.

The company’s hogs are slaughtered at Sioux Preme Pack in Sioux Center. Bacon and hams are processed by Webster City Custom Meats in Webster City.

Sausages are made by Scooter’s and Wimmer’s in Brunsville and in West Point, Neb. The Beelers provide processors with their own recipes and work with them to ensure the product meets Beeler’s standards.

“Our hope is to continue to grow and meet the demand for our Heluka Pork products,” Beeler said, “creating a sustainable way of life for our farming operation and for those that want to join us.

“As the demand for Heluka Pork continues to grow we are looking for family operations interested in raising pork to our standards, thereby creating a more sustainable enterprise for their operations.”

In Iowa, some of Beeler’s products are available at Hy-Vee, Dahl’s Foods Inc., and at independent health food stores and cooperatives.

Products can also be orderly direct by calling (877) 378-8520.

Additional information and photos of the operation can be seen on its Web site at beelerspurepork.com.

Contact Robyn Kruger by e-mail at rangerob@hickorytech.net.

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