Pork Industry Part of Thriving Nebraska AgricultureSave
Tim Chancellor of Broken Bow believes in agriculture. A good part of a conversation with Chancellor, Finishing Supervisor for Thomas Livestock Company, (T.L.C.), will be about the pork industry but topics don’t stop there. When he discusses livestock, he includes cattle as well as pigs. He’ll also talk about producers responsibility to the environment and the role Nebraska producers play in the global market.
“Ag keeps Nebraska thriving…that’s what keeps Nebraska going. With our livestock we feed the world.”
– Tim Chancellor
Raised on a large ranch in Colorado, Chancellor showed cattle and pigs as a youngster in 4-H and FFA. After high school, he attend attended the College of the Ozarks in Branson, Mo., and Panhandle University in Goodwill, Okla., graduating with a major in agri-business and minors in animal science and industrial arts. After graduation, he returned to the family farm.
How he came to work in the pork industry in a state that’s known more for corn and beef than pigs can be answered with one word…
– Tim Chancellor
After working on the family farm, he accepted the position of Wean Finish Manager with Keeseker AgriBusiness in Washington, Kan., and later, the position of Sow Farm Manager with Dawson Pork in Eddyville. Twenty two years ago he went to work for T.L.C., one of the nation’s leading producers of hogs, headquartered just south of Broken Bow.
Chancellor is married to Minnie, a native of Pine Bluff, Ark., and they have three children. The couple’s oldest son, Erik, and his wife, Jeana, live in Phoenix, Ariz. where Erik is an assistant golf pro at Desert Mountain Golf Course. Son Isak and daughter Anna attend school at Broken Bow Public Schools.
In addition to working for T.L.C., Chancellor also raises hogs on his own place between Broken Bow and Callaway. When he bought the former Gene and Mary Jane Brestel place some time ago, he farmed the ground but now concentrates solely on hogs. He built finish barns that can hold up to 4,000 pigs and leases them to T.L.C. Chancellor also owns finishing barns north of Lexington that hold up to 6,250 pigs. Chancellor has also received zoning approval and permits to start construction on a new site that will house 12,500 finish animals.
Whether talking about pigs, cattle, or crops, Chancellor keeps the environment in mind. “Anybody in agribusiness should have the environment at the forefront of their business. If you’re living off the land, you’d better take care of it,” Chancellor said.
When raising large number of livestock in close quarters, one of the main concerns is the effluent, the waste the animals produce. At T.L.C. facilities, the pens for the pigs have slatted floors above 2 foot deep water pits. The waste falls through the slats into the pit where it’s covered by water. From the pit, it’s flushed to lagoons where it’s also kept under water. “The effluent is used in farming as fertilizer,” Chancellor said, completing what he calls the “holistic loop.” The pigs are fed grain, the pigs produce effluent, the effluent is used to fertilize crops which produce grain which begins the cycle again.
Animal welfare and treatment are also high on the list for livestock producers. “There are groups that question the way animals are raised. We take care of the animals because they’re the way we make our living,” Chancellor said.
Pork Quality Assurance (PQA) and Transport Quality Assurance (TQA) are required training for employees who handle the pigs at T.L.C. “Anyone with Thomas Livestock Company who is in a position to handle, transport or move animals are required to be PQA certified,” Chancellor said. The training programs cover “all phases of handling the animals, day-to-day, how to handle a sick animal, treatment…moving an animal,” Chancellor said. New employees must attend the training and be certified within a 90 day window. It helps, Chancellor explained, to have someone on the job for a little while and then attend training so the training can make more sense and be better applied to the job.
During training, animal handlers learn things like flight movement. “All animals are prey or predator,” Chancellor said. Predators have eyes in front of the head to better see for hunting. The eyes of prey animals, the ones hunted by predators, have eyes closer to the sides of the head to keep better lookout. Understanding concepts like this helps handlers know that when trying to move a pig, standing in front of the animal isn’t going to get results.
Animal welfare doesn’t stop with training. T.L.C sow farms are manned 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “There is always someone there to care for the pigs,” Chancellor said. Whether it be middle of the day or the middle of the night, when a sow gives birth, the piglets are immediately attended to by technicians. The newborns are thoroughly dried off, checked over and returned to the mother. The piglets remain with the mother sow for approximately 21 days. When they weight between 14 and 15 pounds, the little pigs are moved to a nursery facility. In this facility they are weaned and learn to eat feed and grain. The nurseries are manned 18 hours a day. Herdsmen are there to “make sure they’re eating and to help them get used to their new environment,” Chancellor said.
Young pigs remain in the nursery phase for six to eight weeks. They are then moved to finishing which takes about four months. T.L.C. target weight is 300 pounds. “From wean to finish is six months,” Chancellor said. During this time, a single pig will have consumed approximately 700 pounds of feed. The wean-to-market mortality rate for T.L.C. is under three percent, according to Chancellor.
When ready for market, the pigs are taken by semi-trucks to the Smithfield plant in Crete. Once processed, the meat is chilled. The pork can then be distributed domestically or exported.
“Export is very important,” Chancellor said. Some of the larger importers of Nebraska pork include Mexico, Japan, China and Brazil. When pork is destined for the Pacific Rim, it’s transported to the West Coast, put on ships while still cold and shipped. “The longer it ages while chilled, the better the meat, the more tender,” Chancellor said.
Pork that’s distributed domestically can be found in both small and large grocery stores and chains across the nation. The domestic market continues to grow. There’s been a one percent increase in pork consumption domestically per year for the past several years, according to Chancellor. “A very good trend line…the consumer has a budget. Pork is in the mid-range…that appeals to a lot of people,” Chancellor said.
There are many different cuts that can come from a hog including chops, roasts, hams, loin cuts, and bacon.
“Everybody loves bacon…pork itself has so many flavors, it’s so versatile.”
– Tim Chancellor
Technology is a large part of agriculture today and nowhere is technology more in use than T.L.C. Surveillance is maintained through the 32 facilities by video camera. With a few touches on his tablet, Chancellor can quick check on what’s happening at facilities miles away. Technology gives him the ability to watch pigs being fed, being cared for or being loaded on a truck at a moment’s notice.
Technology also is used to track individual animal movement and development. Through the use of computerized ear tags, T.L.C. can track a pig’s movement, temperature, weight and food with amazing precision.
At the sow farm, when a pig comes to feed at one of the automated feeding stations, the data collected by the ear tag is instantly analyzed and the appropriate mix and amount of feed is automatically dispensed into the feeding station. “It will mix feed for individual animals,” Chancellor said. As the pig exits the feeding station, it moves across a scale and its weight is recorded. The pig doesn’t eat only once a day; she visits the food station four or five times daily. Data is collected and feed dispensed accordingly with each feeding.
Data collected can also indicate whether or not a sow is in heat. If sensors indicate that she is staying close to the boars pen, that information along with other data, tells the computer to open gates to sort her to the farrow house. “It’s amazing. We have had 100 percent accuracy,” Chancellor said of the program’s ability to identify recycles that didn’t become pregnant.
Pigs are intelligent and social, Chancellor explained. In the sow barns they are free to wander their pens and form groups of about 10 or 12 that rest together, go to feed together, then return to the same nesting area to rest. “They get along great together,” Chancellor said.
When it’s time to farrow (give birth) the sows are moved to the farrowing area. When their piglets are moved to the weaning barn, the sows are returned to the sow farm, but not to the same pen that they were in before. They are territorial and if they found other sows in their old familiar nesting area, “there would be trouble,” Chancellor said.
The attention to detail doesn’t stop with analyzing data and managing socialization. A hog’s hooves can grow long and curl up, causing problems with walking. For some operations that means it’s time for the animal to go to market. At T.L.C., it’s time for a pedicure. The animal is directed to stall where a bar goes under it and lifts it. A technician then grinds and trims the hooves. “And no, we don’t paint their toenails,” Chancellor said.
In addition to animal welfare, security and bio-security are high on the list at T.L.C. facilities. “Bio-security is very important,” Chancellor said. Facilities are “shower in, shower out.” This means that everyone must shower before entering the facility and wear only facility issued clothing on-site. A shower is also required when leaving.
The same attention to sanitation and bio-security is applied to the trucks that transport the pigs. “Twelve semi loads leave a plant every night,” Chancellor said. After delivering the pigs and before returning to the plant, each truck goes through a special truck wash in Elm Creek. All semis, both the truck and trailer, are washed and then “cooked and dried for eight hours at 95 degrees,” Chancellor said. Only then can they return to a T.L.C. facility.
Chancellor is currently serving as Second Vice President of the Nebraska Pork Board and served as a delegate to the Pork Act Delegate assembly. The Nebraska Pork Board represents the pork industry on many ag issues that go before the Nebraska State Legislature and works to keep the public informed. Next year Chancellor will be First Vice President and the year after that, he will be President.
LB176, which gave the right for meat packers to own pigs, was passed by the Legislature earlier this year. “It will probably strengthen the pork industry in Nebraska,” Chancellor said.
Before LB176, a third of the hogs born in Nebraska were sent to Kansas, Missouri or Iowa to be feed and processed, according to Chancellor, and he believes that LB176 provides another option to keep pigs, and revenue, in Nebraska. He also sees it as a win for the local farmer who would like to get in the pork business, especially if wanting to contract.
“If I have ten contracts (to choose from), now I have a choice. It can strengthen the individual owner in Nebraska because he has better leverage.” He sees the ability to contract with a company like T.L.C. as a way for young farmers to build a business and have a viable income.
Chancellor says working at T.L.C. is “great” and he doesn’t say that lightly. He is proud to be part of what he calls a very unique company. “Doing what’s right for people pigs and profit makes so much sense,” Chancellor said. Chancellor says the strength of the 4th generation owned company, is its workforce, the employees.
In a video produced to showcase the company and its philosophy, R. J Thomas, founder and owner credits good employees as key to T.L.C.’s success.
“It’s all about the employees. If you have good employees, you have good production. Our production is very, very good.”
– RJ Thomas
T.L.C. can be found on Facebook. They are also updating their website, http://www.thomaslivestock.com. Soon they will have a new look and new information online. The video mentioned above is about ten minutes in length and will be available on the site and is already on YouTube. The video explains the company philosophy on both people and pigs and also provides a look into T.L.C. facilities.
Chancellor encourages anyone who would like to know more about the pork industry and T.L.C. to visit the website and view the video.
By MONA WEATHERLY
Published March 31, 2016