The Frantzens manage for quality in soil, hogs and life
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Related articles and web sites

Websites
• Practical Farmers of Iowa Leaders in sustainable farming. PFI web site not only has profiles and research, but also contains drawings and photos by Tom Frantzen of his innovative farrowing huts, and a slide show that demonstrates hoophouse construction.
• Organic Valley Cooperative
Tom sells much of his organic pork through this Wisconsin-based marketing cooperative. His son James also contributes a popular weekly journal (found in the "kids club" section).
• Niman Ranch
Some of Frantzen's hogs are also marketed through Niman Ranch, which sells only pork from pastured hogs treated humanely and raised without hormones or sub-therapeutic antibiotics.

Farm Works Software
Check out this web site for more information on the farm management software the Frantzens use.

Articles & New Farm® Resources
• The Pig Page
Our hog resource page with articles links to information about sustainable hog production and the fight against factory hog operations
• A history of PFI
The farmers of PFI have had an enduring influence on farming around the country. Here's the story of their origins . . . and the role we at the Rodale Institute played in their beginnings.
• Frantzen profiled in Newsweek
In their Sept. 30 issue, Newsweek did a cover story on organic, and as part of that coverage they ran a piece on two Iowa farmers--one organic (Tom) and one conventional (Gary Lynch). Check it out at the Organic Trade Association site.
• Frantzen talks about a failed coop venture
Tom and other Iowa farmers started the Fresh Air Pork cooperative. Though it failed as a business, Tom draws many useful lessons from the experience, which he shares here on the New Farm® web site.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enterprise Summary

Today, the Frantzens’ farm income is derived from:

  • hogs -- 50 %
  • cattle -- 20 %
  • soybeans -- 15 %
  • small grains -- 5 %
  • other -- 10 %

Pork production methods

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 in 1997.

“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 method.

“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 right.”

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,” Frantzen said.

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.

Current challenges
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, Frantzen said.

“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 agricultural system.”


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