Cooks focused on farrowing right now

WINTHROP, Iowa — Trish and Aaron Cook are focused on farrowing for now, but some day they would like to buy land so they can grow their own feed.

The Cooks farrow 1,200 sows. They raise their own replacement gilts. Breeding is 100 percent AI.

The farrowing facilities were built with sow comfort in mind.

"We have evaporative coolers and raised centers in our farrowing crates," Aaron said. "We have tunnel ventilation in the summer and natural ventilation in the fall and spring. We have a nice environment for the pigs and ourselves."

Manure from the farrowing facilities is spread on Aaron's father's and uncle's, according to a manure management plan.


"Our goal is to produce 28,000 to 30,000 pigs per year," Aaron said. "The last couple of years we've battled with PRRS. The health has really improved since the first of the year."

The Cooks and other pork producers in their township have held an initial meeting to discuss a PRRS control and eradication program.

The Cooks run a 10-pig wean average.

"We're trying to spend more time in the breeding barn and hope to improve our live born," Aaron said. "We're hoping to get to 10.5 or 11. That  would really help overall pig costs."

The Cooks hire three full-time and one part-time worker to help with farrowing.

"Our employees are wonderful," Aaron said. "Any success we have has been a team effort with our employees. We are very fortunate to have such great guys."

The Cooks lease their finishing facilities.

"A grain farmer by Manchester was looking for fertilizer," Aaron said. "He wanted to put up buildings and lease them to someone. That has worked well because we needed the finishing spaces and we could ease into it."


Trish uses MetaFarms for sow production records and is in the process of adding the finishing hogs. She uses Easy Automation for the feed mill and plans to get the two systems set up to talk to each other. Ahe has developed Excel spreadsheets for cash flow projections.

As a farrow to wean operation, it's through-put that helps the Cooks combat high feed costs.

"Every extra pig we can get through lowers our cost," Aaron said. "I'm optimistic we can keep improving and manage through these other things."

Hog prices are a lot different today than they were a year ago or in 2008 when grain prices shot up and hog prices weren't there to back that up.

"Keeping the hog price up eases a lot of the pain," Aaron said.

Trish's cash flow projections look at pig flow, input costs and hog prices. This year the Cooks have fed a lot more distillers grains to control costs.

"This year we're feeding 40 percent distillers in the ration, but last year that wouldn't have worked because of the poor quality corn and high toxin levels," Aaron said.

The Cooks buy corn from local farmers and elevators, and they've used the Chicago Board of Trade to protect themselves on corn prices.


"We're very concerned about where this is all going, but as pork producers we're optimistic," Aaron said. "Our industry has a real future, but we have some points of concern that we have to work through."

The Cooks believe that it's important for livestock farmers to take every opportunity they can to tell their story to a general public that has little connection to agriculture.

"You need to do it one person at a time," Aaron said. "If you take the time to explain what you do, they're going to put your face on farming the next time they go to the grocery store."

The Cooks work with North Linn FFA to teach students about modern pork production. Students have visited their farm and the Cooks have gone into the classroom. The couple has also offered tours to neighbors who want to show their urban-born grandchildren a farm.

"Our daughter, Holly, educated her 7th grade class about H1N1 flu and how it doesn't come from pork," Trish said.

She added that they work hard to be good neighbors and put a lot of effort into making their farm site look nice.

They are Buchanan County Pork Producers board members. They provide pork to the local Little League to use for the walking tacos sold to raise funds, and they provide pork to the local family and consumer science classes. Holly and Spencer show pigs for 4-H.

Aaron said that this is a good year.


"Input costs are high," he said.

"But the hog market is supporting it," Trish added.

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