In addition to their crops and cattle, the Frantzens raise approximately
100 sows. From April through November, pigs farrow in the pasture.
In the winter, the sows farrow inside. The Frantzens also raise
hogs in three 30-foot by 72-foot hoop houses that were built
“These buildings revolutionized the way I raise hogs.
We use three feet of bedding in them, and they are low maintenance.
The bedding retains nutrients that can later be spread on
our fields, and you don’t get manure odor and runoff
from the buildings,” Frantzen said.
The hogs are fed a ration of corn, wheat, hulless oats and
okara. “Okara is ground soybeans mixed with water. This
mash is cooked, and the liquid is skimmed off. The pelleted
okara provides a great organic protein source for our pigs.”
Proper nutrition is a key to maintaining animal health.
“We can vaccinate for anything we want to, and are required
by the state to vaccinate for pseudorabies. We use herbal
treatments for other ailments. We try to control disease with
proper feeds, though. Little pigs like acidic feeds, and acidified
pre-mix helps control E. coli.”
Membership in Organic Valley
Frantzen belongs to a seven-member pork pool through Organic
Valley (www.organicvalley.com), a Wisconsin-based cooperative
with more than 460 farmer-members in 17 states.
The Organic Valley pork pool is comprised of six Iowa farmers
and one Wisconsin farmer. Frantzen produces 40 percent of
the group’s pork. Organic Valley markets the hogs to
Sioux Preme Pack in northwest Iowa.
“Sioux Preme is niche meatpacker and is a certified-organic
processor. Any of our pork that is not needed to fill orders
is sold conventionally. While our pork pool is small, Organic
Valley’s philosophy is to ensure profitability before
expansion. Because my cost of production is higher than the
conventional system, I need a higher price for my pork to
make a profit,” Frantzen said.
Some of Frantzen’s hogs are also marketed through Niman
Ranch. (Editor’s note: Niman Ranch was started more
than 25 years ago in California. In the Niman Ranch system,
livestock are humanely treated, fed the purest natural feeds,
are never given growth hormones or sub-therapeutic antibiotics,
and raised on land that is cared for as a sustainable resource.
Many Niman Ranch hogs are raised in Iowa.)
When he markets his hogs, Frantzen says the benefits of his
pork production system far surpass the confinement production
“Pigs need access to the outdoors. There are three things
a pig needs to do, including run around, build a nest and
chew on things. A pig can’t do this in a confinement
crate. When a pig is raised in confinement, all it ever sees
are the pen, a slatted floor, a waterer and a feeder. When
pigs are raised outside, they see lots of new things all the
time. Unlike the confinement pig, getting sorted and shipped
to market is not too traumatic, because the pig is not stressed
out by the experience.”
To ease the process even more, Frantzen uses a special sorting
and loading system designed by Temple Grandin, the well-known
animal scientist from Colorado State University. Grandin’s
systems are designed to ensure that animals are handled humanely
and efficiently. “It works beautifully in all kinds
of weather,” Frantzen emphasized.
When hogs raised in confinement systems are sent to market,
the process is much different, Frantzen said.
“The pigs are frightened, and the chaos continues
at the packing plant. Some don’t survive the trip to
the packing plant. For the ones that do, they are often so
upset they don’t stun well. This is terrible, because
the lines in the commercial plants run four times faster than
the lines at niche plants like Sioux Preme Pack. When we asked
the plant manager at Sioux Preme Pack how many pigs like ours
died from stress in the trailer, in transit or at the plant,
he couldn’t think of any.”
||"The pork customers we sell to
give us glowing comments about our pork. That’s
good, but we also need more consumers to understand that
demanding the Wal-Mart way means animal treatment will
be marginal. It’s a big issue. To move more organic
products, we need people to understand the story behind
the meat they buy."
The way animals are treated on the farm and at the packing
plant is a story consumers need to know, Frantzen emphasized.
“The pork customers we sell to give us glowing comments
about our pork. That’s good, but we also need more consumers
to understand that demanding the Wal-Mart way means animal
treatment will be marginal. It’s a big issue. To move
more organic products, we need people to understand the story
behind the meat they buy and know that our animals were treated
Marketing groups like Organic Valley are vital to organic
producers, Frantzen added. “We would be destroyed in
the conventional market without them. You do give up some
independence and have to learn a new way of thinking. It’s
like a dance between the marketer and the producer, and you
have to think about the partnership.”
Record keeping makes a difference
In all types of production agriculture, keeping good records
is critical. “This is vital when you are raising value-added
products. Not keeping good records in organic farming is like
taking an altimeter out of an airplane and flying at night,”
Since he purchased a computer in 1999, Frantzen has used
various software, including Farm Works and an accounting program,
to track data and manage inventory. Frantzen also maintains
electronic maps of his farm. The notations section allows
he and son James to detail the activities in each field. Each
entry is dated, and planting dates, the type of seed planted,
labor costs, how many hours were put on the tractor, etc.
At the end of the year, Frantzen prints the detailed records
for each field.
“We have a dial-up connection so I can also get on
the Internet. I probably spend about an hour a day on the
computer. It takes discipline to keep records on a daily basis,
but good records help you make the decisions that really matter.
They help me understand where the weak links are on this farm
and what needs improvement,” Frantzen said.
While the Frantzen family is able to run a successful business,
health insurance is a big issue that causes concern.
“We pay a lot for health insurance. It’s one
of the biggest problems facing independent farmers and the
middle class,” Frantzen said.
Another area of concern is the hog market, Frantzen said.
“Hogs are the money makers, and our pork pool needs
to expand. Increased marketings are a must. We need more winter
pork production, too, for the marketing pool. We will probably
go to a deep-bedding farrowing system where we put farrowing
huts in a greenhouse.”
In addition to the challenges posed by Iowa winters, Iowa’s
population base creates another issue for sustainable agriculture,
“Here in Iowa, diversification is badly needed, but
we don’t have the population base to support local markets
like populated urban areas can. In our county [Chickasaw County],
we only have 12,000 people.”
Nevertheless, the benefits of sustainable agriculture continue
to outweigh the challenges, Frantzen added.
“People told me to go into this system for the quality
of life, not the money. I like the way we’ve been able
to get away from chemicals and develop a better business plan.
We are fully employed and are not looking to expand. I think
there probably is a future in it for my children, if they
want to farm. There would be no future for them in a traditional