Raising livestock ‘a lifestyle’
Central Iowans driving down local highways occasionally pass a pasture full of cattle or see a hog confinement or five.
Two local farmers, Kaleb Applegate and Tim Pansegrau, work with beef cattle and hogs, which both make a significant impact on Iowa’s economy. They said the lifestyle comes with unique challenges.
“We go and pick up the pigs from a sow unit over by Tama-Toledo … when they’re about 12 pounds and bring them here, and then they’ll stay here until they get to 280 pounds,” Applegate said of his roughly 5,000-hog operation near Green Mountain.
As the pigs grow, they require different types of care.
“When they’re young, it’s pretty labor-intensive,” Applegate said. “Once they get a little older, we’re mostly monitoring for sick pigs, pigs that may be falling behind that may need some special attention.”
Sick pigs are quarantined in a separate pen from the others to help prevent disease spread and so treatment can be given.
While they’re stereotyped as gluttonous animals, Applegate said pigs are a bit persnickety about what they will consume. He said he and his family work hard to make sure their water is clean and their feed is of high quality.
Hog confinements – those long, low-level buildings dotting the Central Iowa countryside – are where Applegate’s pigs reside until they’re ready for harvest at JBS in Marshalltown. A lot of technology goes into the newer hog confinements.
“The building is all climate-controlled, so if it gets too hot it turns on fans, if it gets cold it heats it,” he said. “This winter, I got baby pigs in then it just dropped to that miserably cold stretch where it was like 30-below windchill … but it stayed about 80 degrees in the buildings.”
Where’s the beef?
Tim Pansegrau and his family work to make sure their beef cattle are healthy and taken care of at their farm near Gilman.
“Right now we’re calving, so when it’s warmer out, we try to check them every four hours,” he said. “When it got cold, we tried to check them every two hours.”
Pansegrau said the cattle normally get fed at night and make sure their water is clean. Once it warms up in May and June, he said the herd will be let out to pasture, grazing on grass.
Despite being such big animals, Pansegrau said his cattle are well-behaved.
“Ours are all pretty gentle,” he said.
Pansegrau said usually a bucket of feed is all that is needed to get the herd going where he wants it.
While Applegate’s hogs are indoors much of their life, Pansegrau’s cattle are usually outside. That presents its own set of challenges.
“The big one is the weather factor, especially this time of year,” he said.
The January cold snap that hit Central Iowa was rough. Pansegrau said he and his family had to tough it out, just like many area farmers did.
“Even though Mother Nature is not being very kind outside, it’s something you have to do,” he said.
Both farmers said their family’s support and leadership helps keep their operations going.
“It’s a really unique way of raising a family and getting to spend time with my kids, to teach them a way of life, to teach them honestly and integrity and values,” Applegate said.
Pansegrau said he works during the day and relies on his eldest daughter to tend to the cattle much of the time. His whole family is involved.
“I was raised on a farm, and we’ve had livestock my entire life … That’s how we decided we were going to raise our kids,” he said. “It’s been a good lifestyle.”
Pansegrau said he would like to be able to keep the farm in the family as time goes on.
Both men said the lifestyle is rewarding but often stressful.
“I enjoy the challenge of a sick pig and doing everything I can to care for it to bring it back to health. At the same time, it’s frustrating and disheartening when you do everything you can but it’s just a sick pig and it dies,” Applegate said. “On Christmas and Easter and the Fourth of July, there’s still pig chores that need to be done.”
Pansegrau said the lifestyle has to be in a farmer’s heart to keep going.
“You have to be very passionate about your job,” he said.
Iowa’s livestock industry is an important part of the state economy. The state is ranked first in hog production and seventh in beef cattle production, according to the Iowa Pork Producers Association and the Iowa Beef Industry Council.
At any given moment, the state’s farmers are raising 20 million hogs and in 2015 hog production contributed more than $13 billion to the state’s economy, according to the Iowa Pork Producers Association.
The beef in Iowa still exceeds the number of people at about 4 million cattle. The state’s cattle industry contributed more than $6.3 million to the Iowa economy, according to Iowa Beef.
For more information, visit https://www.iabeef.org/raising-beef/cattle-industry-facts or https://www.iowapork.org/news-from-the-iowa-pork-producers-association/iowa-pork-facts/